Monday, July 28, 2008

The Hungry Ten Thousand

A Children's Homily on Matthew 14:13-21 The Feeding of the Five Thousand
Godly Play style

First we’ll put down a place for the story to happen. This is a wild and a far-away place!

(Spread out the round green circle)

Once there was someone who just loved to feed people.

Sometimes he fed them with words, sometimes he fed them with love, many times he healed them of sicknes, and sometimes he fed them with food!

Now this man was someone who said such wonderful things, and did such amazing things that people followed him wherever he went. His name, as you may have guessed, was Jesus.

(Lift up the Jesus figure)

One time many many people had followed Jesus all the way to a far away, wild place. This was a place with no food in the neighborhood. In fact, this was a place with no neighborhood! But still the people wanted to stay with Jesus.

(Put a few figures on the green circle)

Thwo of Jesus’ frinds were concerned and they said to him,

(Lift up two “friends”)

“Teacher.” (this is what they sometimes called him) There is no food here, this is a far away wild place and it’s getting dark. Don’t you think you should send the people away so they can buy food for themselves and their families? (there were children there too)

The man who loved to feed people said, “They don’t have to go away- YOU give them something to eat.”

His friends were very surprised by this. They said,

(Lift up empty hands, then get loaf of bread and the two fish)

“We have nothing to eat- nothing at all! Jesus looked at them and then they said, “Well, we DO have a little- five loaves and two fish- but that’s only enough for us!”

(Place bread and fish on the green circle)

Jesus said to them, “Bring them here to me.”

(Hold bread and fish and lift them and put them back down on the circle)

Then he told the crowd to sit down in that wild place, and he took all the loaves and both of the fish and he looked up to heaven and he blessed them and broke them, and he gave them all to his friends and his friends gave them to all the people.

(Take basket of goldfish crackers and give three goldfish to each child)

Everyone was able to eat and everybody was all full when they finished.

And the most amazing thing was that after everyone had eaten, still there were twelve baskets full of broken bread.

(Show the basket full of goldfish)

Now on that day, whoever counted the people forgot to count the women and children. So we only know that there were five thousand men.

(Make the sign of the five fingers)

But if they had counted women and children too, there might have been 10,000 people

(Make the sign of ten fingers)

or even more who were all fed all they wanted with more left over on that wonderful day.

Now I wonder what was your favorite part of the story?
I wonder what was the most important art f the story?
I wonder who you were in the story?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What is an AEMCH?

AEMCH (pronounced "EMSH"- almost rhymes with "mensh") is a made-up word that stands for “An Episcopal Ministry to Convalescent Hospitals.” It is a thing of beauty and I am delighted to be their new coordinating chaplain.

AEMCH was started at my old parish, All Souls Episcopal, 27 years ago by the tireless and faithful Rev. Arlinda Cosby and the then rector, Rev. Bill Clancy. The idea was simply to support and encourage parishes to have thriving ministries to their local convalescent hospitals, including holding services there and bringing the Eucharist to individuals. Arlinda began to preach to congregations and to hold training forums for this ministry.

My first impression of AEMCH was when Arlinda came on her yearly visit to preach at All Souls and urge us on to the Jesus-like task of caring for and visiting those elders in the convalescent hospitals who might not otherwise get a visitor at all. Spurred on by her message I started doing this wonderful work and just couldn’t stop.

My favorite place to go was Kayakameena Nursing Home not far from my home in Berkeley. It is not the most upscale of these establishments, but All Souls had a great ministry going (still does!) and it was always fun. The venerable Rev. Bill Fay is always the presider at the once-a-month Sunday afternoon services, preaching the good word and leading the hymns. I began to fill in for him when he went on vacation, and I always marveled at the amount of joy we apparently brought for so little effort.

Marsha Thomas-Cooke, a wonderful jazz vocalist began to come with us to Kaykameena and she always delighted us with her voice and also kept us on key for the hymns.

For a very long time I would visit a woman who used to go to All Souls Church, Helen Stanley. Her moods would run the gamut from cheery to desolate. “I’m going today, Este,” she would tell me, looking worn and exhausted. “This is the day I will see Jesus!”

Then I would see her the next week and she would be calm and cheerful. When I would ask her what I could do for her, or if I could bring her anything, she invariably would say, “Just stay a while and hold my hand.” Helen must have had a strong spiritual effect on her two sons, because one was a rabbi and one was a Catholic priest. For the record, it was the rabbi who kept in touch with her and visited her far more. I was there one time when he was visiting Helen with his wife, and I never saw Helen happier.

When Helen died several years ago I went to her funeral and discovered a different side to Helen than I had ever known. There was a time when she left her two young sons to go to California for some reason I didn’t understand. Maybe they both turned to God for consolation, or maybe her leaving gave them room to seek such different paths. But by time I met her they were reconciled and she was all sweetness, softness and gratitude.

There is something about a person (not always but often) when they reach an advanced age that does seem grace-filled. Sometimes I think that when you are born you have just left the presence of God and when you die you return, so that as a middle aged person you are about as far from God as you are going to get age-wise. So it behooves us to be with children and elders to pick up a little grace by association.

A few weeks ago I went to Kayakameena again and Bill Fay celebrated and preached. The All Souls contingent was 7 strong joined by two Franciscan brothers and myself with my husband and 14 year old daughter. There were 25 residents in attendance at the service and they sang with amazing gusto.

In my most recent visit to another convalescent home, The Redwoods, in Mill Valley, I met with a woman who is 109 years old. She was not ambulatory, but she was sharp and she was funny. In fact in may be her sense of humor that has kept her going for so long. She reminded me (not for the first time) of her age and I said, “Camille- you are doing great!”

“What do you mean I’m doin’ great?” She yelled. “I’m lyin’ here like a wart on a pickle!” We shared the Eucharist and she reflected that she often thought about God when she woke up at night.

“Being spiritual comes in real handy when you’re an old bag like me!” she said.

Ask me about AEMCH when you see me, or better yet, do yourself a favor and come visit with us for the most painless and rewarding Jesus-in-the-world work you’re ever likely to do!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Come Unto Me...

Sunday July 6, 2008
Church of Our Saviour Children’s Homily

We have such a beautiful Gospel passage to read today- one of my favorites of all time. Jesus says something like, “Come to me all you who are weary and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest. I will lift your burdens.”

What is a burden? A burden is something that is too heavy to carry alone. If it was not too heavy to carry alone, it would not be a burden. It would just be something to carry.

We all have burdens… Maybe you have had a burden sometime. Have you ever picked up a bag of groceries and realized- Whoa! That is too heavy for me! Or maybe you have had a different kind of burden. Maybe you have had a burden in your heart- a great burden of sadness, or of loneliness, or a burden of scaredness. Or maybe you had something in your heart that just did not feel good at all. And these feelings make your heart feel heavy.

Well, I want to tell you that I just got back from a trip that taught me a lot about people who act like Jesus and lift people’s burdens in the world. I went on a trip with Father Richard and Gay Johnson all the way to New York City with our wonderful teenagers, and almost everywhere we went, we saw the lifting of burdens. At the amazing church where we lived, they reached out their arms to the whole city and said “Come to me” and they lifted the burden of hunger from the people who came to get free food from their pantry. They lifted the burden of homelessness from those who slept in their shelter. And for people who could not come to the church to get food because they were to elderly or sick, the church brought food to them! They tutored lots of children and they hosted a synagogue and a Presbyterian church and had dozens of meetings for people struggling with bad habits.

But one of the most touching stories about the lifting of burdens happened right in the middle of our week. We took a boat to a very famous island- Ellis Island. This is an island that long ago, thousands of people would come to, to lift their burdens of not having a safe country to live in. They wanted to live in our country where it was safer and where they would have a chance for a life without the burden of fear and hunger. And as we approached that island we saw the Statue of Liberty. Lady Liberty held up her torch high as if to say, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” I remembered a poem about Lady Liberty that goes “Give me you tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free.” And I thought, “What do you know- here it is almost the 4th of July and Lady Liberty is acting like Jesus! You never know where Jesus is going to turn up!”

Well, during this trip I felt a little burdened myself sometimes. I felt burdened with homesickness and loneliness and tiredness. And what lifted my burden was to see our amazing teenagers helping each other, comforting each other and lifting each other’s burdens. And they not only pitched in to feed the hungry poor, but they also pitched in to feed the hungry us. I had four of the best meals of my life cooked by these wonderful teenagers and then miraculously, the kitchen was beautifully cleaned with no effort whatsoever by any adult!

Well, I thought about the wonderful church we stayed in and all the burdens they lifted, I thought about the beautiful cathedral we stayed in and how they were reaching out to Africa to take care of orphans there and lift their burdens, I thought of the Statue of Liberty and I thought about the amazing teenagers on our pilgrimage. And I thought I had never seen so many people acting like Jesus out in the world.

So if you do have a burden in your heart of loneliness or scaredness or sadness, you might reach out to a brother or sister or your mom or dad or someone else you trust. And you just might feel that burden lifting, because Jesus comes in all shapes and sizes in this world.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Oh Soul, You Worry Too Much!

Reflections on Matthew 6:25-33
The Lilies of the Field
May 25, 2008
Church of Our Saviour

We worry too much. This is the flip side of the glory of being a human. We can have compassion, we can strive to imagine an infinite holy being, and even strive to imitate her. We have freedoms unimaginable for those natural wonders portrayed in this beautiful passage- the lily of the field and the birds of the air. And yet we worry.

We who worry are referenced in our Old Testament passage as well- we are the prisoners to whom the Lord says, "Come out." We who worry are the ones who are in darkness, to whom the Lord says, "Show yourselves."

But you might say, “Why shouldn’t we worry?” Given the earthquakes, tornadoes, food shortages, global warming, wars and rumors of wars, traffic congestion, heart congestion, the impending split in the Anglican Union, gasoline prices going through the roof, never having anything to wear, and the cruelty of bad hair days?

Well, according to scripture, we shouldn’t worry because we live in an unending state of grace- we just haven’t noticed it yet. We live unendingly in the great love of God, who as Jesus says, loves us ever so much more than a mother loves her nursing child. And even with the disasters looming, we live in an unimaginably beautiful and vast shelter- the shelter of creation- a shelter than literally could not be more glorious, more perfect for our needs.

In our gorgeous Gospel reading of today, Jesus calls to mind two creatures that don’t have very much in common with human beings.

A bird- a hummingbird, for example- is living in the moment to an extent that we can barely fathom. And living in the present moment makes worry impossible, because you have no thought of what is to come. Only, as the Buddhists would have it, this perfect present moment. If the hummingbird stops to think about the incredibly fast buzzing of its wings, it will fall. If it stops to consider the flavor of the nectar it is about to drink, its energy might not hold out.

With the lilies of the field, it seems to me we move into a higher level of consciousness. They don’t even move, at least not perceptibly to us. They just absorb the God-given glory of the sun, the minerals in the earth and spin out their exquisite form for us. And yes, they are clothed more incredibly than any designer fashion. But human beings rarely get to that level.

About the only person I can think of who approaches the serenity (or the beauty) of the lilies of the field, is also a person who has probably suffered more loss and hardship than anyone I know.

When I was 8 months pregnant and I had a two year old, I hired the formidable Laotian mountain woman, Fahm Fou Sae Chow, to help me. I was working at home, doing business coaching over the phone, and I needed someone to allow me quiet to work a few hours a day. When she first took stock of my situation, she looked at me with great pity.
“Just YOU??" she said. " Where is your mother? Your sisters? Your aunties? You are the only woman in your house??” She obliged me by cheerfully, and certainly without worry, by doing the work and supporting me as a mother, a sister and two aunts would have done.

I was very proud of the fact that I was going to have my baby at home. I knew that Fahm Fou had 8 children and so I asked her if she had them all at home. “No, no, none at home,” she said brightly. I was about to ask her what kind of hospital she went to when she finished the thought:

“In the field- very good in the field- no mess.” I then asked her if she had been alone all those times.

“Oh no!” She said. “Sometimes my husband was with me- sometimes.”

"You had all those babies in the field?” I asked.

“All except for Caen. We found him.”


“During the Viet Nam war a man had a 2 year old tied to a porch- an orphan. He had food in a bowl like a dog. We asked for that child and he was happy to give it away. I was just 18 and I live with my parents. When we got married, Caen was our firstborn!”

I got to know my babysitter well. She invited my family over to her house in San Pablo many times, and I have rarely seen people live so well, or so worry-free. She had her grown daughters and a married son living with her and they had planted a large garden. All their bountiful, beautifully cooked meals came from that garden, complemented by chicken and pork that would have seemed like a dream in the holding camp in Thailand where she lived with her 8 children before she managed to come to the states.

After Fahm Fou and her eight children managed to get out of Laos, they were housed in this holding camp for 5 years. Times had been very hard in Laos during and after the war. Fahm Fou lost her husband and everything else she had during the war, and one of Fahm Fou’s sons got a high fever from eating spoiled pig- the remnants of a tiger’s kill in the jungle. His name is Caen, and he never fully recovered, and remains a sunny child at the age of 24.

Fahm Fou, without worry, had born seven children in the fields that the lilies and the birds happily shared with her in her beloved Laos. And, in her unworrisome way she somehow found time to embroider the most exquisite flowery creations for herself and her family to wear- the traditional richly ornamented garments of the Hmung mountain people. She lived with me almost daily for 2 years, and during that time she created her glorious embroidered wonders for everyone in my family. We were all dressed like lilies of the field by the time she got through with us.

Fahm Fou was puzzled about many things in our culture- among them the need for strollers. She often carried my infant daughter in a beautifully embroidered traditional Hmung snuggly she had made. In fact she carried my daughter virtually all the time that I was not nursing her. My daughter inherited some of Fahm Fou’s care freeness- some of her lack of worry, maybe from all that wonderful snuggling- that ever-present warmth. Fahm Fou taught me a lot about being a mother, and a lot about life. And in fact, something about God.

It seems to me that Jesus wants us to be like my infant daughter, enfolded in that warmth, held securely even during the dips and turns and ups and downs in the daily activities of the enfolder. God wants us to have that security, that faith.

But a life lacking in worry is so foreign to our culture that it seems almost necessary to plum other cultures, if not other times, to get a glimpse of it. I’d like to end with a poem by a favorite 13th century mystic of mine, Jelaludden Rumi. This is a poem addressed to we who worry in the voice of God. It’s called “You Worry Too Much.”

Oh soul, you worry too much…
Look at yourself,
what you have become.
You are now a field of sugar canes,
why show that sour face to me?

…You say that I keep you warm inside.
Then why this cold sigh?
You have gone to the roof of heavens
of this world of dust, why do you worry?

Oh soul, you worry too much.
Since you met me,
you have become a master singer,
and are now a skilled wrangler,
you can untangle any knot
of life's little leash
why do you worry?

Your arms are heavy
with treasures of all kinds.
About poverty,
why do you worry?

…Oh soul, you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?

You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.
You are the security…
why do you worry?
Be silent, like a fish,
and go into that pleasant sea.
You are in deep waters now,
of life's blazing glory.
Why do you worry?


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Whirlwind Tour of the Trinity

Trinity Sunday May 18, 2008
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

In the name of the Triune God, eternally creating, redeeming and sustaining, Amen.

Well here it is Trinity Sunday, and in churches all over the world preachers are trying to explain the unexplainable. What is this thing called the Trinity, and how can you be three but still be one?

People have explained the Trinity in all kinds of ways. I have heard that the Trinity is simply a symbol of the first and most lastingly divine thing we experience as an infant- the father, the mother and the child. I have read that the Trinity is the first model for the church, in that it is in of itself a sort of wondrous community. Or that in certain church social circles there is so much triangulation that we just naturally worship the Trinity.

But I believe that any exploration into the Trinity has to start with a deep wondering about God the Creator, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Having been out of seminary for 3 years now, I recently had a revelation. Before I went to seminary I was very uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus, but very comfortable with the idea of God. After I enduring 6 years of seminary, I found that I was very comfortable with the idea of Jesus, but uncomfortable with the idea of God.

Before I was educated, I thought of God through the lens of Lakota Sioux spirituality: MITAKUYE OYASIN, which is Sioux for “All My Relations.” In other words, God is truly all-encompassing. All creatures are our relations and are all part of God with us. There really was nowhere that God did not touch, and the where and whyfores of what God did and did not do were a huge mystery. Isaiah later imparted something of this feeling to me speaking the words the words of God: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your ways.

Then I read about process theology and I read Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book ,”Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
Rabbi Kushner came to a new conclusion about God when his young child died of cancer. He cold not reconcile the God he loved with anyone who would allow such a thing to happen. He described his new philosophy like this:

A 707 crashed into a bridge in Washington DC- that was physics. By when Maury Schmutnick, who had never had a heroic thought in his life, jumped into the river to save a drowning stewardess, that’s God.

These thoughts were bolstered by an incident closer to home, although, thank God, not in my own family. The VERY FIRST 20 minutes of my tenure as a chaplain at SF General hospital was sent to comfort a couple whose 3 year old had run out into the street and gotten struck by a car. She was on life support, and the parents were trying to decide whether or not to disconnect her live-saving systems. After a long and agonized struggle, they had to come to the horrific realization that she could not be saved. I as so undone by this tragedy that I had a memorial service just for the chaplains and nurses and myself. The grieving couple, thank God, had their own church community. But I preached a sermon for that little girl in my homiletics class and I kept her picture by my home altar to pray for her and her parents. You are not supposed to these things as a hospital chaplain.

But as time went on, I realized that Rabbi Kuschner’s idea of God was too easy an answer. I felt it was wrong to put God in a box, that God in fact was the very definition of “Out of the Box.” A phrase I heard somewhere kept coming back to me: “Do you praise God only when the hurricanes do not blow?”

Or do you embrace and say yes to creation in all its wildness? Is that not at least one definition of faith? Around this time one of my greatest influences was a kind of a renegade priest who was at the time serving (for free) as vicar of St. Cuthbert’s in Oakland. He was known as a kind of an “out of the box” thinker. This was right after the great tragedy of the Tsunami title waves in Indonesia, and I posed this question to him:

“How do you reconcile the reality of that scale of devastation with the idea of a loving God?” He said, “God gives the plates of the earth’s crust the freedom to be plates of the earth’s crust. They then do what plates of the earth’s crust do.” He challenged me to imagine a world in which creation did not have this freedom. We would have an utterly ordered world with no death, never any chaos, no wildness- no wilderness.”

In the book of Job God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. He speaks of the glories of creation; the unfathomable complexity and power of that God-made creation, and man’s arrogance in thinking he can comprehend or control it.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements, surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”

God speaks of the great power of the Leviathan, the sea monster whose creation is noted in our beautiful Genesis reading of today.

Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook? Put a rope in its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it make a covenant to be your servant forever?

These wonders are a mystery I don’t want to mess with; the great and truly unfathomable whirlwind that is the glory of God.

If we look at the second member of the Trinity, Jesus, the Son, we have a being who seemed to understand this great glorious mystery in a way that encompassed the Jewish awe of its majesty, while also seeing God in an intimate and loving way. Jesus called God “Abba” which in Hebrew means not Father, but “Daddy.”

Jesus had this trusting, intimate relationship with God, but still understood the power and the mystery. As he knelt in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, dreading the way his life was apparently going to end, he prayed that the cup be taken from his lips. But, he said, not mine, but your will be done. We may not even be able to comprehend the love of God the awesome creator, but we know the Son so well that we can and do understand the love of Jesus of Nazareth through the myriad stories of his healing, forging and ultimately redeeming love.

I believe that part of the reason we have been given that glorious reading of Genesis today is that it contains the very first mention in the bible of the Holy Spirit. The “Ruach Elohim”- the Spirit of God, or the Holy Spirit that swept over the face of the waters. The Holy Spirit, I believe continues to sweep over the face of the waters, and over the face of everything else too. The Holy Spirit, I believe is working all the time. I often note that when things go well for us, we say, “Boy, the Holy Spirit was really working there!” As opposed to all the other times when the Holy Spirit finds itself unemployed! And our gospel reading of today is the only time the Trinity is specifically mentioned. It is mentioned in the context of the Great Commission- commissioning us all to go forth and spread the news of this unexplainable, mysterious, all-encompassing triune love.

We need the wilderness, we need wildness, but the majesty and the glory and the fearful mystery of God is too much for us. I guess that’s why we need the Trinity.

If we truly have a have a triune God, if we have a true Trinity, then we have all the vastness and wildness and unpredictability of God the Creator. But we also, in the same being, have the human compassion, forgiveness and redeeming love of Jesus. And we have the great power and mystery of the Holy Spirit, which can and does cause both the great and wild mystery of God and the human love of Jesus to flow through us like a great river.

Paul ends his Letter to those tempestuous Corinthians with the following beautiful blessing:

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Whatever happens, whenever the hurricanes blow, still and always we exist in the love of God. That love is unending, that Father will never leave us, that spirit is within us whatever happens, and that son will always grace us with forgiveness.

At a retreat recently we said the following prayer, which, I felt, protected us with the power of the triune God:

Throughout this day, enliven our minds
inspire our conversation, inform our decisions,
and protect those we love.
And should today bring what we neither anticipate or desire,
increase our faith and decrease our pride
until we know that when we face the unexpected,
we do not stand alone.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

Well I have been thinking of the fate of my people. My people being middle-aged women who are mothers in this high speed, perfectionistic, media-driven cyberborg society. In my mother’s generation the mothers for the most part DID NOT work outside the home, so their houses were looked after by them, the children pretty much looked after by them, and no one expected them to have fresh ground coffee beans, fresh store-boughten flowers, or children who would got a 4.8 grade point average. AND they either had servants if they were well off (THEIR mothers might have had SLAVES if they were well off) OR if they were not well off, they would have extended family- THEIR mothers, sisters, sisters-in-laws, etc.

I had a Laotian babysitter for my youngest child. She looked after my infant while I did a coaching job on the phone. She could not believe that I did not live with my mother, my sister, my aunt. With great pity in her voice she asked me, “Just YOU?? You are the only woman in your house??” She obliged me by doing the work and supporting me as a mother, a sister and two aunts would have done.

I was 8 months pregnant and I had a two year old when I took her on. I was so proud of myself that I was going to have my baby at home. I knew that she had 8 children and so I asked her if she had them all at home. “No, no, none at home,” she said to my great surprise. I was about to ask her what kind of hospital she went to when she finished the thought:

“In the field- very good in the field- no mess.” I then asked her if she had been alone all those times.
“Oh no!” She said. “Sometimes my husband was with me.”
"You had all those babies in the field?” I asked.
“All except for Caen. We found him.”
“During Viet Nam war a man had 2 year old tied to a porch. He had food in a bowl like a dog. We took that child. I was just 18 and I live with my parents. My boyfriend too. So sometimes I had Caen with me at my parent’s house, sometimes my boyfriend. When we got married, Caen was our firstborn!”

I got to know my babysitter well. Her name is Fahm Foo. She invited my family over to her house in San Pablo many times, and I have rarely seen people live so well. She had her grown daughters and a married son living with her and they had planted a large garden. All their bountiful, beautifully cooked meals came from the garden, complemented by chicken and pork that would have seemed like a dream in the concentration camp in Thailand where she lived with her 8 children before she managed to come to the states. I saw her beautiful garden and was particularly struck with the large purple poppies.

“We lived from them in Laos,” she said.
“You sold flowers?”
“No- opium, but no more!” she said.
“Opium! You must have made lots of money!”
“Oh yes! Enough for food AND clothes!” she enthused.

I managed to raise my 2 daughters without the help of opium sales, but with the help of my husband and our village-like neighborhood, but now it is college time for the oldest one. It’s just like being required to buy a house for each child as they leave home. And the prep! I remember that the night before my SAT exam I went out to a party, inhaled and woke up very groggy, but managed to get to the test on time. I exhaled sharply at the difficulty of one test question, and I saw smoke come out.

No one suggested that I study for this thing- no one I knew did. And the only college councelling I got was one sentence from my older brother's stoned girlfriend: “Hey, man, the College of Marin is a really groovy school!”

“OK. I said. I’ll go there.” But I never got around to it. In San Francisco in 1968 there were so many other things to do.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Washed in the Blood of Betty, and The Flight of the Ladybug

Sermon for Easter Day, March 23, 2008
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

Every Easter is like the first day of the rest of your life- the best Easter you have ever had. But I am going to tell you the story of an Easter of mine which, like the Easter story itself, was a scary story with a happy ending.

I was supposed to deliver a children’s sermon that Easter, and the day before, as often happens, I didn’t have any good ideas. So I started to make lunch. I sliced a cabbage open in preparation for making coleslaw, and there, in the very center, miraculously unharmed but unmoving, was a tiny ladybug.

Now that ladybug had been in that cabbage in the refrigerator for three days. But of course it was springtime, being Easter, and the window was open. A ray of sunlight shone on that cabbage, and that ladybug began to move and breath (I guess) and she spread her wings.

And since the window was open, she ascended into heaven.

Now that was the homily I was going to tell, but something happened on that Easter morning that prevented me from telling it. It was Easter Sunday and the church was packed, and a favorite senior of mine, very full of years, was sitting right up front. For reasons unclear to me still, she approached the altar, tripped and fell, glancing her head on the communion rail. And there, on Easter Sunday, directly in front of the cross, in the middle of the church, she lay bleeding from a head wound. I always sat up front, so I was the first to get to her and I held my hand over the wound (which was really bleeding) and tried to calm her.

The priest’s husband is a doctor, and so the priest started shouting, "Jonathan! Jonathan!" Jonathan was downstairs with one of his kids, and the longest five minutes of my life began to tick by. Someone called 911 on their cell phone, and then no one knew what to do, so we did what Episcopalians always do when they don’t know what to do: we started singing. We sang the Taize standard “Stay with Me,” swaying and holding hands and praying. Jonathan finally appeared and told me to run to the kitchen to get some ice, which I did. My hand was literally full of blood, so I first went to the sink to wash it. As I did I thought, “Here it is Easter morning and I’ve been washed in the blood of Betty!”

I came back and Betty was already feeling a little better. Then, like a flock of rescuing angels, the emergency workers surged down the aisle of the church and took care of Betty. They bandaged her, comforted her, and supported her as they all walked back down the aisle. Betty smiled and waved a queen as everyone applauded.

I later thought of the whole thing as an Easter allegory; when we fall down, even if we are wounded, with a little help from our friends and a lot from the Holy Spirit, we can arise. And maybe, like the ladybug, even find our wings and fly.

The Passion of Joan

Sermon for Good Friday
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

It was my mother who taught me about Good Friday. She was well acquainted with the story, being the daughter of a preacher. She told me that at 12:00 noon on the first Good Friday, the sky grew dark, and that Jesus hung on the cross for three hours until he died in that darkness. I remember blinking out at the bright Maryland Springtime, wondering how the sky could ever turn black at mid-day. But there did come a time for me when the sky turned black in the middle of the day, and that was the day my mother died. There were lots of stations of her cross, but I was absent for most of them.

The first station would have been the accident, when she was struck by an out of control vehicle after her busy day of work as an executive secretary in Washington D.C. The first station was rendered almost immediately into scripture:

A reading from the Washington Post, Friday, Oct 25, 1974:

A Washington woman was injured yesterday when she was struck by a metro-bus as she was crossing Pennsylvania Avenue at 15th Street North West, Metropolitan police said. The woman was identified as Joan R. Gardner of 520 “N” St. NW, an employee of the Association of Registered Bank Holding Companies. She was taken to Washington Hospital Center where her condition was listed as critical.

Here ends the reading.

Everybody else got out of the way, but she apparently didn’t turn her head to see an on-coming bus. I always wondered: was she so lost in thought that she couldn’t turn her head and look up, even to save her life? Or did she make a sudden dash for eternity for reasons eternally known only to herself?

Station two would have been the arrival of the ambulance, and the rescue workers. They had difficulty identifying her until someone found her purse, which had been thrown some distance away.

Station three was the waiting room where I sat with my dry-eyed siblings and my mother’s best friend who wept non-stop. I hugged her, feeling guilty about my own dry-eyed state. I was however, comforted by my brother when the doctor told me my mother would have no cognitive functions left.

Station four was the hallway where my father and I walked, meaning to see my mother in the ICU. Just outside of the room, at station five, a well-meaning nurse, playing the part of Simon of Cyrene, wrong-headedly offered to carry the cross for me. She had just seen my mother and she said, “Her blood pressure is dropping and her condition is not compatible with life.” I let her carry that cross and I fled, ever after wishing I had stayed and been with my mother at the last station as she died. Instead I have only my brother’s description of my mother’s beautiful face. She was all swathed with white bandages from her head to her toe, he said. So all he could see was white with the exception of her very blue eyes, which were open but unseeing. I have had a recurring dream ever since that she died peacefully in my arms, instead of all alone surrounded by doctors and machines.

I did make it to one more station of the cross for my mother, the station of ashes. No one else in my family wanted my mother’s ashes or knew what to do with them, so I brought them with me in my suitcase to California. I decided to scatter them in the San Francisco Bay, since I knew how much she loved it. I opened the container of ashes in the bright sunlight and I looked in. I saw a glaring bright whiteness- brighter than anything on earth could have bleached them. As devastated as I was I couldn’t help but see how beautiful they were. They looked like the ornaments of any sun-bleached shore- tiny fragments of seashells and delicate shards of the bones of fish and birds nestled in white sand. My mother had been transfigured, had been glorified, had somehow entered into the arms of all creation.

Even with that glimpse of glorification, of resurrection, I spend the next several decades in the tomb. I dwelt with death and with regret at my missed opportunity to be with my mother when she died for a very long time.

Several years ago I heard a wonderful sermon by Bishop William Swing the bishop who ordained me. He talked, among other things about death. He said everyone seems to have something like a little bag of death inside of them, pulled closed with fragile threads of string. He spoke of the death of someone he loved and how the sound of earth thrown on the lid of the coffin loosened those strings for him and let death slowly leak out. The sight of my mother’s ashes, and the memory of them, beautiful as they were, seemed to loosen those strings for me as well.

Then, shortly after I heard that sermon, I learned there was one station more for me to witness. I was asked to preside at the 7:00 AM Ash Wednesday service, which is something I had never done before. A kindly altar guild member warned me about opening the container of ashes too quickly. Be careful, she said. The nice silver container sticks and if you just pull it open, the ashes will fly out all over the altar and all over your face and the mood will be altered in a way that might sort of ruin the effect.

So at 6:30 AM, half awake but conscientiously trying to prepare, I decided to practice opening the container. Just before I did I remembered that container of my mother’s ashes. I wondered in the dim light of the chapel if I would re-experience my mother’s death- if the fragile strings of that little internal bag of death would loosen again. I slowly and carefully opened the container of ashes and was thunderstruck. What was in the container were not the ashes of death but the bread of life. I had switched the two silver containers and was now looking down at the communion wafers I was about to serve to the faithful.

I have had other experiences of resurrection in my life, but never so instant, so head-jerkingly sudden, so mocking of my tragic expectations. Rooted to the spot, I continued to stare into the silver container. I suddenly realized that this instant transformation had taken 32 years. Seeing that bread of life made real for me the answer my best friend had given me when I asked her why my mother had to die. “Este,” she said with great certainty and even joy, “Your mother is not dead.”

As I often have, I felt the presence of my mother there with me in the chapel on that Ash Wednesday morning. And I realized that although I had not been there at the foot of the cross, I was somehow there at the resurrection.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Valley of Dry Bones and the DMV

Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
Church of Our Saviour Mill Valley
Easter Vigil Reflection, March 22, 2008

Just this past week I found myself wandering in my own version of the Valley of the Dry Bones. In this valley, with was actually a long and slow-moving line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, an Old Testament miracle began to unfold. Suddenly the dry bones in front of me began to quicken and move and all at one I surged forward and found myself in the Promised Land- right at the front counter. I smiled into the face of a very beautiful and very large woman with an enormous tattoo on her left bicep. She smiled back and bent to her work, preparing the form I was to fill out. As she did I tried to discreetly read the tattoo, but her sleeve was partly in the way. It said something about “My Girl” in a beautiful and flowery script, and then underneath it read “1952 to 2004.”

“It looks like you lost someone,” I said to her.

“Yes, I lost my mama. I got this tattoo to remember her by. She was just skin and bones when I decided to have it done, and you won’t believe this, but she said she wanted one too. When my niece went to get one last year she about had a fit, but here she was coming with me. So we went into the tattoo parlor and she said, 'I’ll go first in case it hurts.' And she got a tattoo about me.

After she died I always used to hug this tattoo (she wrapped her arms around herself, her hand cupping the tattoo) when I missed her. I still do.”

Misty (that was her name) had experienced the valley of dry bones. Those bones had told her there was no hope. Those bones had made her feel that she was cut off completely. But Misty had transformed those dry bones. She prophesied on her own skin in indelible prose and she breathed spirit into those bones. She had created something that had not only sinew but gloriously abundant flesh. And not only skin that amply covered those bones, but images of fruits and roses in juicy abundance. She created a garden out of desolation. Misty breathed life and spirit into into those dry bones and they lived. .

It is not likely that Misty was familiar with the poet Rumi, but her story and the story of the valley of the dry bones made me think of a poem of his:

Inside each of us there is continual autumn.
Our leaves fall and are blown out over the water. A crow sits on the blackened limbs and talks about what is gone.

Then generosity returns: spring, moisture, intelligence, the scent of hyacinth and rose….
There’s a necessary dying and then Jesus is breathes

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled so wildflowers will come up where you are.

You’ve been stony for too many years. Try something different. Try surrender.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Palm Sunday and The Sweet Strains of the Spiritual...

Palm Sunday, March 16, 2005
Church of Our Saviour
The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor

I heard someone recently describing the sound of a spiritual. It is a triumphant sound and a mournful one at the same time. Perhaps that heart-wrenching sound developed because those spirituals came from a population so steeped in pain that it had to aspire to the possibility of grace along with the suffering. Like the possibility of a joyful triumphant entry into a city, followed by an unimaginable loss.

Palm Sunday as we celebrate it today is a mixed up sort of liturgy, which contains thrilling heights and a devastating depth. We inherited a service that encompasses both the story of the passion of Christ and the story of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Before the ancient rites were rediscovered, there was no Holy Week, and the week before Easter was the logical time to delve deeply into the experience of Christ’s passion- that series of events that led to his crucifixion, beginning with the garden of Gethsemane and ending with the sealing of Jesus’ tomb.

But sometime in the late 4th century, a female pilgrim named Egeria took a remarkable pilgrimage and left us a detailed account of what the ancient Holy Week observance was like in Jerusalem.

We have all been experiencing our pilgrimage through Lent, hitting our high points and stumbling into our low points. We have all been journeying toward Jerusalem; so let me tell you a little bit about the pilgrimage of Egeria.

Lucky for us, Egeria recorded her pilgrimage to Jerusalem and also lucky for us, she was a keen observer and fastidious recorder of her remarkable surroundings on this trip to the Holy Land. She was clearly learned and is thought to have been a nun or an Abbess from Northern Spain.

In the first part of her journal she describes the sites of biblical events, where people apparently were certain they took place: The very brook where Moses was found, the exact place where the golden calf was made, and even the very same burning bush that Moses saw, which she describes as “still green and still producing live shoots”.

But the latter part of her amazing journal is what impacts us more, and brought us the treasure of the ancient observance of Holy Week, one that the Eastern Church never forsook. Even today, the Orthodox churches, which have a different day for Easter, only celebrate the midnight Easter vigil, on Easter Eve. Easter itself is just another Sunday!

But Egeria’s journal began to bring the rest of the church back to the ancient ways. Her journal describes the observance of the feast of the Epiphany including a Night Station in Bethlehem, and all of Holy Week and Easter. Palm Sunday was described in detail with its formal procession with palms to the Mount of Olives and a veneration of the cross. It also described the celebration of Whitsunday, or Pentecost. Egeria apparently participated in all these ancient festivals with great concentration and joy, and a great retention of detail.

Her tones are filled with awe as she describes the Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem about 1600 years ago:

"On the same day, at the ninth hour, they go forth to the Mount of Olives with palm branches; and there they pray and sing psalms until the tenth hour. And after that they go down to Eleona, and the bishop with them, to the church, where hymns and antiphons suitable to the day and to the place are said, and lessons in like manner. And when the ninth hour approaches they go up with hymns to the Imbomon, that is, to the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and there they sit down, for all the people are always bidden to sit when the bishop is present; the deacons alone always stand. And as the eleventh hour approaches, the passage from the Gospel is read, where the children, carrying branches and palms, met the Lord, saying; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,

And the bishop immediately rises, and all the people with him, and they all go on foot from the top of the Mount of Olives, all the people going before him (with hymns and antiphons,) answering one to another: Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. And all the children in the neighborhood, even those who are too young to walk, are carried by their parents on their shoulders, all of them bearing branches, some of palms and some of olives, and thus the bishop is escorted in the same manner as the Lord was of old. For all, even those of rank, both matrons and men, accompany the bishop all the way on foot.

Egeria’s excitement is apparent from her description of this beautiful re-enactment of the triumphant march into Jerusalem. And once these ancient rites were communicated to the faithful in Rome, you can see why they began to replicate it in their liturgy, as we have continued to do.

But there is a message in our hybrid of services today. We are observing the triumphant march into Jerusalem and the passion of Jesus, two things apparently at opposite ends of the spectrum of human experience. But this is life- this is what we find in our lives at so many junctures, as we attempt to negotiate our way through great suffering and great joy as human beings and as Christians. We find the necessity to hold the cross and the triumphant resurrection at once. The necessity to hold the very best in life along with the very worst- and to recognize that this reality is not irreconcilable- this reality is life.

Perhaps it was only Jesus who knew, in that triumphant but still humble entry, that what followed would be the cross, and the ultimate end would be resurrection. This is what we face in our lives all the time. And the only thing that gets us through is faith. Faith that the cross is not the end of the story. Faith that there is a reason to be triumphant. And faith that like the sweet strains of a spiritual, our hearts can hold these great contradictions without breaking.

Happy Feast Day to You, George Herbert!

Matthew 5:1-10
Church of Our Saviour

Today we have before us two of the loveliest gifts we could ever hope to receive: The beatitudes of Matthew’s gospel and the life of the remarkable poet and priest, George Herbert.

C.S. Lewis was in his most stridently atheist phase when he was urged toward his Christian awakening by George Herbert. In speaking of Herbert he said:

Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the authors
I had read in conveying the very quality of life as we live it
from moment to moment. But the wretched fellow, instead
of doing it all directly, insisted on mediating it through
what I still would have called the "Christian mythology."
The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed, "Christians
are wrong, but all the rest are bores."
-C. S. Lewis

The beatitudes may have done something similar to their first hearers- they were confounding, infuriating, senseless- They took everyone’s dearest held and most jealously guarded priorities and turned them all inside out. But perhaps, after they were heard, everything else sounded boring.

And still today, Jesus, takes all of our worst fears and tranforms them, resurrects them, and in the process, transforms and resurrects us. In the deepest imagingable way, Jesus is simply saying again in the beatitudes the one thing that he and all the angels always said: “Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid. The subtext is love. The subtext is a God that loves us so entirely that there is no circumstance from which you will not be redeemed and ultimately, nowhere to fall except into the arms of a loving God. This a love so vast that there can be no poverty of spirit,in it there can be no more mourning. No one can be meek with love this big.

As Rumi would have it:
Don't look for me in a human shape
I am inside of your looking
No room for form
with love this strong

Redemption and mourning and poverty of spirit and the vast love of God were among the great themes that George Herbert brilliantly painted for us in his poetry. Beginning in his late thirties he was Vicar of a small parish near Salisbury, tending his flock with extraordinary devotion. He cared for the poor and he visited the sick and somehow managed to find the time to write an astonishing quantity of poetry. The poem we are probably most familiar with is a hymn we frequently hear. When I read it to myself I heard it differently than I hear it with music, and it did remind me of the beatitudes:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.

He wrote many poems in this style, (reams of them, in fact) but he also wrote in an incredibly practical and almost amazingly contemporary way. “The Country Parson” contains wisdom so down-to-earth that it is hard to suppose it is by the same author as the gorgeously spiritual words to that hymn we just heard. Perhaps these were more the quotes that inspired the very practical C.S. Lewis- the words that proved how Herbert “conveyed the very quality of life as we live it:”

Hell is paved with good intentions,
Living well is the best revenge.
None knows the weight of another's burden
Do not mention my debts unless you mean to pay them.

George Herbert seems to encompass both the world of the spirit and at the same time an utterly grounded and practical sensibility. He in fact described himself as “caught betwixt this world and grace”

Well, we are all “caught betwixt this world and grace,” and the question is, how do survive in this precarious state? Evoking C.S. Lewis again, how do we climb through the wardrobe door away from mourning and meekness and poverty of spirit to the blessing of a hunger, not just for food and for things, but for justice? Perhaps a beginning is to just take Jesus at his word in this beautiful litany of blessings we are given in the beatitudes. Perhaps if we allow ourselves even a glimpse of how deeply loved and blessed we are, it might give us courage to follow that simplest of suggestions: “Do not be afraid.” And if we can truly let that into our hearts, maybe the transformation from bereft to blessed might just begin.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Calling of the Fishers

Church of Our Saviour, Jan. 27. 2008

Those newly called fishermen did more than repent- as in turn around. They did an about face, dropped their nets and ran. And they followed the riveting stranger who had called them all their lives.

The people who get called in the bible are rarely graceful, sophisticated or even talented people. Elisha, the Old Testament protégé of Elijah was herding cattle- twelve, to be exact- when Elijah came with the call. Perhaps overdoing it, Elisha not only dropped the plow, but immediately slaughtered all of 12 of his oxen and fed them to the surrounding people.

The Old Testament prophet Amos protested loudly when the priest Amaziah urged him to prophesy:

“I am no prophet and no prophet’s son- I am a herdsman and a tender of sycamore trees.”

He nonetheless begins immediately to spout prophecy to rival any Old Testament prophet, warning of doom, gloom and death, as was the OT prophet’s want.

Those who are called traditionally complain of being slow of tongue like Moses or of having unclean lips, like Isaiah. But even with a lisp or a stutter, Moses was able to confront the pharaoh and tell him to let his people go, and even with those initially unclean lips Isaiah became the longest-winded prophet in the Old Testament.

But interestingly, the New Testament fishermen didn’t hesitate for an instant. But their stuttering, their foibles came to light after they started to follow the call. Peter up-braided Jesus for his plan to go to Jerusalem to complete HIS calling, and later tried to walk on water and sank like – well, like a rock. He denied even knowing Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion. And even after Jesus died, and Peter was the leader of the church, he seemed to forget Jesus’ ideas of radical inclusiveness, wanting to exclude Gentiles from being Christians. But it was on this clueless mortal that Jesus built his church. Good news for us all.

James and John were famous for their cluelessness- offering to send down fire and burn to cinders the Samaritans who did not welcome Jesus, and asking Jesus for a special seat at his right and left hands when he came into his glory. They had no idea what they were asking for.

My own calling to the priesthood followed the model of the Old Testament prophets. Although I got my calling in my basement office next to my computer and push-button phone, the old-fashioned fearsome strength of this call stunned me. And even as I felt a great joy at the rightness of the calling, once I found out what the cost would be, in terms of tuition, time away from my family and untold hours of volunteer labor, I determined to go lie down somewhere quiet and wait until the call went away. It never did.

I later realized that what I had was something of a genetic tendency, because my grandfather, the Rev. Herschel Davis Harkins was a minister, and now my cousin The Rev. John Cory is one as well. I recently found a story my grandfather wrote about his calling. Unlike my modern digital office experience, his call started on a freight train and continued in a hotel room. He speaks several times of light- sunshine, glistening leaves, a golden beam of light:
He wrote:

A long freight train rambling near Riverside, California, slowly passed through an olive grove. The leaves glistened with dew in the morning sunshine. Suddenly, I saw the figure of a man kneeling in the shadow of the trees. The posture was one of prayer, the true picture of Christ in Gethsemane was clear and beautiful. The artist was a spirit. Someone was praying for me and sent that picture which was the turning point of my life…. I was converted in a hotel room, and a thousand golden bells softly called me to the miracle of dining with the Holy Savior. My heart was filled with great joy. A door of wonderful service was opened to me. God had called me to tell the story of Jesus and his great love.

My grandfather was a minister for 65 years with his remarkable wife Bessie at his side ministering along with him the whole time. They were like those fishermen in the New Testament- they jumped and never looked back. At the Pier in Pacifica, a city where my grandfather ministered for years, there is a plaque that reads: “The Herschel D. Harkins Pier. He was a fisher of men.” But he was certainly not perfect- my mother could testify to that. He continued all his life to drop everything, including his family’s needs at times, every time he heard a convincing call.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew a lot about the cost of discipleship, and he wrote a book with that name. He was a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany, which was out-lawed by the Nazis. He pushed his church to side with and protect the persecuted Jews, and he raised and spent money to help Jews escape Germany. He was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler, was imprisoned for 2 years and then hanged three weeks before the end of the Second World War. He describes the calling of the fishermen like this:

Until that day, everything had been different. They could remain in obscurity, in the quiet of the land, observing the law and waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But now he has come, and his call goes forth. Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting. They must rise and follow him. The call frees them from all earthly ties and binds them to Jesus Christ alone.

What is a calling? Whether it is a true calling or not, we are drawn to it because it represent for us a movement from darkness to light- even from death to life.

When we get our call- we may stutter- we may feel unclean, unworthy- we may even make a hash of it. But we are supposed to follow that call. If it feels like moving out of deep darkness into the light, if it feels like leaving doom and gloom and coming to the dawn, if it feels like moving from injustice to justice, from hatred into love, from hollowness to fulfillment, you are probably supposed to follow that calling, even thought there will be a cost.

But perhaps a greater cost is NOT following the call- living a life, as Diechtrich Bonheoffer would put it, of “cheap grace” -grace that comforts only you, and never the least of your brethren. But even if we chose that life of comfortable darkness, it is only a matter of time before we will begin to long for the light.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Three Priests from the East

The Rev. Este Gardner Cantor
The Feast of the Epiphany, Jan 6, 2007
Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley

Once upon a time a man awoke from a dream. He was not an ordinary man, and this was no ordinary dream! The man was from the priestly caste of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism in ancient Persia. He knew all about how to understand numbers, and how to interpret dreams. He also knew when one should travel through a mountain pass, or when to set sail on a voyage. But the thing he knew best was all about the stars and where they should be at any given time. He had fallen asleep with his face pressed against his star charts, trying in vain to identify a star that had appeared mysteriously on the horizon earlier that same night. Since he knew everything there was to know about stars, he knew that this was a wild star- a star that was out of place, a star he could not identify. And strangest of all, it was moving.

But what about his dream? Well, in his dream, someone, he knew not who, called out to him, “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” The words had been so loud and sounded so important that he woke up, and without really meaning to he did arise, his head snapped up from it’s place lying on the star chart. Blinking his eyes, he yelled out into the darkness“Light? What light? Who’s there? Who is talking to me?”

But no answer came. By now he was more awake and he stared out before him, out of a large, wide window, which he used to study the stars. And there it was again. The star was still rising, a big, beautiful blazing star- not like any of the ones he knew so well- and no- it was not in the right place according to his great knowledge- it was going its own way! It almost looked like a comet- streaking across the sky in a beautiful arc.

“The star!” He cried out, jumping to his feet- “Maybe that is the light the voice told me about in my dream! A star... a star... I have read something about that before- but where??” So the priest did what he always did when he could not find an answer in his own mind- he went to study what others had written. Now there was something very precious in that place of prayer and study-- a scroll of the ancient Hebrew Holy Scriptures- very rare and very precious. He began to carefully pour over it, trying to find out what the voice in his dream was talking about.

"Hmmmm…light, light 'God said let there be light, and there was light'- no that’s not it…'The people who lived in darkness have seen a great LIGHT, those who lived in a land of deep darkness-' no that’s not it-”

He kept skimming and finally he came to a passage that almost made his heart stop. “HERE IT IS!” He yelled to himself- “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” He was fully awake by now. “OK what else does it say?” Let’s see- people are to come from all nations on camels- hmmm- young camels- OK- and they shall bring gifts for a king- gold, and frankincense (well I really think they should bring some Myrrh as well)- but where is this great King they are bringing gifts to? And where is the star?”

Then he found a story that interested him very much. In the Book of Numbers, Balaam, a magus (that's the singular for magi, which is from the Ancient Persian Magaputi, which means Zoroastrian priest, if you really want to know) from long ago spoke the words he had heard in a dream:

“I see him- but not now- I behold him- but not near- a star shall rise out of Jacob, and a scepter (that’s the thing a king holds!) shall rise out of Israel.”

The Priest threw his hands up in joy, so suddenly that he almost knocked the sacred scroll to the ground.

“It is the birth of the great Messiah- the great King that has been prophesized! And this is the star that proclaims his birth! I’ve got to go and meet him!”

Well, Israel was a long way off (not near, like the magus' dream said) and a big place. But if that star was going to rise- he figured he better follow it. “This star is the sign I need to show my friends that they might come with me and I might not travel alone!” he shouted.

Now he had two priestly friends who just loved to follow the stars too, so he ran to their house and woke them up. Dawn was beginning to break by this time, but you could still see that star bright as day.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come!” He yelled in their ears as he shook them.”

“AHHHH, what is this? Robbers in my house?” screamed one.”
AYEEEEE! Will I be murdered in my bed?” yelled the other.

“No you old fools, it is only me!” The priest was able to drag them to their window so that they could see the wild star, and then they just stared at each other.

“Don’t you see? It is the star of the Messiah at its rising- we must go and worship him and bring him gifts- gift fit for a king!”

He paced the floor for a few seconds, gathering his thoughts.
“Go saddle your best camels (be sure they’re young) and hurry up! I’ve got some precious gold and some very good frankincense, but I’m all out of myrrh- I’ll see if I can find some.”

“You- go get 10 pounds of dried goat meat, five pounds of dates and ten sheep bladders of water, and lots of pita bread. You! Go get a whole lot of camel food- meet me here in an hour!”

And so they all met again in an hour, their fine young camels loaded down with gifts and provisions. And they traveled away from their native country, following that incredible star, which shone just as brightly in mid-day as it did in the night.