“Startled” is putting it mildly

I don’t usually feature guest columnists on this blog, but when the highest offices in the land began mumbling and musing over the idea of arming teachers as a solution to our gun violence problem, I thought of my dad. So I asked him what he thought.

Alan McNee writes:

One blessing of old age is that, by definition, I am immune to early death and I am able to view the world with a relaxed detachment. I don’t lack comfort, and I can feel confident that I have played my part according to my abilities. I can reflect on my life’s experiences, good and bad, in the hope that I can categorise my feelings into some sort of order.

After school I was conscripted into the army, when National Service was compulsory. Then, newly qualified, I spent my entire teaching career in just three schools in England and Wales. At the time I retired I was Headmaster of a medium sized comprehensive school. I was a proud father and a loving husband.

I mention all of this because I am able to consider Donald Trump’s suggestion that teachers in school should carry weapons, recalling my roles as a soldier, an educator and a parent.

So, back to categorised feelings. This one fits very neatly under the heading “Startled”. I have been trying to imagine the situation where I am confronted by a madman with automatic weapon:-

  1. Where is my weapon stored?
  2. Who has the key to the cabinet?
  3. Is the ammunition in the same place?
  4. Is this weapon a match for the automatic wielded by the assailant?
  5. Will I do any collateral damage?
  6. Will I later face legal repercussions?
  7. Will the experience ruin my relationship with my students? And their parents?
  8. How will it affect my own family and domestic situation?
  9. Above all – Am I ruthless enough mentally to command the situation?

No wonder this Presidential “knee-jerk” startles. My advice to you Donald – let’s keep this idea of yours in the category where it belongs: “Computer Games”.

I am, like many others, in awe of the young people who have risen up from their own grief and trauma to confront the issues presented by our sea of guns head-on; the brave students of Parkland, Florida, their forerunners in Chicago and elsewhere across the country, my own young adult children who grace me with their wisdom and leadership.

As it turns out, we can still learn something from our parents, too.

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A perfectly imperfect marriage

A homily commemorating John Henry Newman, at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, February 21, 2018

John Henry Newman spent his life pursuing the peace that this world cannot give. He tried to find it in the church, but even there it seems that he was disappointed. He is celebrated as some kind of martyr in the Roman Catholic church, after his conversion to their flock, and as some kind of lost sheep savant by the Anglicans. He was a man of deep and tormented faith, and of profound intelligence, but he was not what might call happy. He was a perfectionist, and can anyone, living this life, prefer perfection and find any lightness of being?

I love that the first reading chosen for John Henry is a love song, because I think that it is love that he was pursuing all that time, love that he longed for in his quest for perfection, completeness, soul-satisfaction.

When his father died, John Henry wrote in his diary,¹

When I die, shall I be followed to the grave by my children? my Mother said the other day she hoped to live to see me married, but I think I shall either die within a College walls, or a Missionary in a foreign land – no matter where, so that I die in Christ.²

I think John Henry was lonely, and that Christ was as much his consolation as his committed husband.

He approached his ordination like a wedding, with excitement and dread, with joy and cold feet. He wrote one day,

As the time approaches for my ordination, thank God, I feel more and more happy … Let me, living or dying, in fortune and misfortune, in joy and sadness, in health & Sickness, in honour and dishonour, be Thine

but the very next day, the day before he was ordained, he wrote,

Now, … how hard my heart is, how dead my faith. I seem to have an unwillingness to take the vows, a dread of so irreparable a step, a doubting whether the office is so blessed, the Christian religion so true

and after the event,

I feel as a man thrown suddenly into deep water.


Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer,

as the Song of Solomon says.


I was first introduced to Newman as one of the leading lights of the Oxford Movement, a revivalist movement in the Church of England, not to be confused with revivalists of the evangelical stripe. These were men (all men) who wanted to reform the Church of England, to purify it, to remove it from worldly and political concerns to a place of pure holiness and worship, untainted by impure Puritanism or superstitious Papism. The church should be, Newman considered, a place removed from this world, having more in common with the worshippers around the throne of heaven than with the passers-by outside its own doors. He wrote in one sermon,

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like, – a church. For in a place of public worship no language of this world is heard; there are no schemes brought forward for temporal objects, great or small; no information how to strengthen our worldly interests, extend our influence, or establish our credit. These things indeed may be right in their way, so that we do not set our hearts upon them; still (I repeat), it is certain that we hear nothing of them in a church. Here we hear solely and entirely of God. We praise Him, worship Him, sing to Him, thank Him, confess to Him, give ourselves up to Him, and ask His blessing.³

The problem, Newman found, was that the world simply would not leave its boots at the church door. It insisted on trampling its hobnailed problems across the pews and even echoing over the altar. He retreated further from conflict, fleeing the Reformation back to Rome, in case he should find it further removed from the day to day arguments and intrigues that beset all cities, all communities, all lives. He found himself a missionary, as he had predicted, but not to foreign parts, burned by sun and dust, but to the modern industrial desert of the English midlands, where the mines and the  factories pressed poetry out of men’s souls, and soot marked the cities year round, and not only on Ash Wednesday. I do not know that he found it an escape. He did find more controversy, when the Pope decided to become infallible, a decision which Newman, in a rare moment of diplomacy, declared, “inopportune.”

Nevertheless, he was true to his new vows, his eternal husband, his Christ. He continued to seek consolation, perfection, the companionship of his spirit for which he yearned.

“I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.”
I sought him, but found him not.


Here is the problem: John Henry was right. The church needs, we need the church to be a retreat from the chaos and conflict of the world, a sanctuary for the troubled spirit, a balm for the sin-sick soul, salvation for the sorrowful. Our worship, such as we find on these Wednesday evenings, elevated by pure voices and artful light, is an oasis. It is respite. It is a relief to find ourselves lifted up to heaven along with our prayers.

But we do not take our boots off at the door. We cannot hang up our skin with our coats. We may not be unfaithful, commit adultery against our everyday lives and sneak off in secret to meet up with God. We will remain divided, unsatisfied, lonely unless we are able to love God with our whole lives, and to bring our whole lives to worship around God’s throne. That will mean, in this life, accepting imperfection in the separation of church and the scandalous state of being that surrounds us.

It is the very message of the Incarnation that this is not only possible, but desirable in our relationship with Christ. God’s own self chose the imperfect marriage of the sacred and the profane as the most perfect way of salvation for God’s children.


Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother’s house.
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.

And so it turns out that Christ and the church, worship and the world, love and labour God and grime is the marriage made in heaven that we consummate on earth, to the satisfaction of our bodies and souls, a welcome companion on the lonely quest for perfection.


¹ John Henry Newman quotes were all found in Love’s Redeeming Work, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford University Press, 2001), 402-411

² This and the following diary entries from John Henry Newman, Autobiographical Writings, ed. Henry Tristram (London, 1956), 200-221, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work

³ John Henry Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. I (London, 1875), 1-14, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work

Biblical quotations are from Song of Solomon 3:1-4

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As though

Remarks from a Vigil and Call to Action for the victims of the Parkland, FL school mass shooting held in Ohio by God Before Guns

The orange stoles which some of us are wearing were created for national #WearOrange day. It was an idea that came from the friends of Hadiya Pendleton, who was 15 when she was shot to death in Chicago, not at her school, because our violence will not be contained, but in a nearby park. June 2nd was her birthday, and her friends wore orange, as hunters do, to say, “See us. Don’t shoot us.”

Which is to say that this is not the first time that our children have asked us to intervene in the personal arms race which is stealing the lives of their beloved friends. Will we listen this time? Or wait for the next time?

I wear my orange stole to pray for the victims of gun violence, then, to remind me that when I pray, I have also to listen, and to act.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus asks the crowd, “Who among you, if your child asks for a fish, would give him a snake instead, or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?”


We act sometimes as though,
when Jesus told the thief on the cross,
Today, you will be with me in paradise,
that it made up for all the casings outside
the Paradise Club, and the holes in the walls;
the excruciating pain of metal through flesh
as the hammer falls.

As though, when Jesus said,
Let the little children come to me – but no.
Let’s not go

As though, when he saw the funeral bier,
Jesus was not gripped in his guts by the waste of life,
not assaulted by the mother’s shrill grief,
as though he were able to pass by
on the other side,
as though death had no sting.

We act sometimes as though
Jesus will rewind each death we do not want
or didn’t mean, as though
he himself were not laid out on that board
unable to move three days now since
we shot him coming out of church.

Repent! the echoes ricochet off the bible.
I will require a reckoning for your lifeblood,
says the Lord.

Repent! the echoes ricochet off the gospel,
for you cannot serve both God and guns,

and who among you, when a child begs for bread,
would hand her a bullet instead?


May the good God grant that when we pray, we remember to listen, and to act.

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Bruising God

A sermon for the First Sunday of Lent, 2018

Noah bore a huge responsibility, when you think about it. To hear the story told, he held in his protection the future of all flesh: every living creature on the earth.

Noah did not save them. How long could he have lasted, on his overblown boat, without the repentance of God and the relenting of the rain and the chaotic waters that threatened to eat up creation? Noah was literally in the same boat as every other creature on earth, completely dependent upon the whim of God, and the will of God’s mercy. His responsibility lay not in his power, but in his solidarity with every living thing left orphaned, widowed, undone by the sudden storm. His saving grace was not his own, but the compassion and covenant offered, eventually, by God.

But without Noah’s faithful intervention, how many more lives would have perished? What future would the lions have, or the doves? His obedience to God landed him with the responsibility and the privilege of caring for all of God’s living creatures, all flesh.

On this first Sunday of Lent, only a few days into the dry, dusty wilderness, what is the responsibility that our obedience places upon us? I think we know, even if we do not want to face it. We cannot save them all, we cry, and yet, with Noah, the onus is on us to build an Ark for the protection of all flesh, for the future of all of God’s children, so that they have a future.

We come together this morning in the wake of yet another mass shooting, yet again targeting children and the adults dedicated to them at their school. We hear a familiar litany of lamentable warning signs in the background: repeated trauma, and the recent wound of sudden loss. disaffection, disconnection, intimate partner abuse, White supremacy, and that death machine, the AR-15. The sins of hatred and self-aggrandizement, the philosophical and physical diminishment of the value of others, the denial and desecration of God’s image in another, a neighbour, even a lover, which explodes into massacre, a campaign against all flesh.

And what is our responsibility, in obedience to our covenant with God? Where is our Ark? How do we stay afloat in a sea of sin when we know, we know that we have, we do, pollute the waters ourselves, at least from time to time?

Is it hypocrisy to rail against domestic violence (which is a term that I hate, since violence is anything but domesticated, tame, or civilized, all the more so when we wield it cynically against those whom we claim to love best); is it hypocrisy, then, to rail against domestic violence when we know that it happens here, too, in the household of God, in the family of the church? Each of us knows, from our own extended family networks, the prevalence of such abuse. One in four men, and one in three women report some kind of abuse from within their relationships. How do we repent of our own sin and simultaneously condemn the sins of others?

Is it a denial of reality to demand a reduction of gun violence, a restriction of access to high-powered weapons, to weapons that efficiently and effectively enable the sins of disaffection, desecration, to spray themselves across wide areas and increase the reach of death? What is our responsibility, where is our Ark, to save all flesh from the flood of violence that too often overwhelms us?

I wish I had easy answers. I wish that the gospel were all sunshine and rainbows, and happily ever after. It doesn’t seem to work that way. The story of Noah falls within the first ten chapters of the first book of a Bible which continues to tell the story of God’s covenants with creation for more than nine hundred more chapters, sixty-five more books. At the end, we are told, in the world to come, there will be no more sorrow or sighing, no more nightmares, only the light and peace of God’s countenance. But it is a long journey from here to there.

Here is the good news, for those of us still in the struggle: Jesus has overcome temptation, and gone ahead of us, healing, restoring, repairing, resurrecting. He continues to bear the weight of our sin, our shame, our struggle, and he does not leave us alone in our sorrow, but to all who truly turn to him, he offers a way forward: the way of repentance.

The way of repentance is one of hard labour. The building of Arks is not an insignificant undertaking. Can you imagine even just the food provisions that Noah needed to lay in, in order to feed all flesh? He must have had to restrict his own stores, even those set aside for his own sons, in order to provide for the rest. He had to dismantle his own house and rebuild it into something that had room for all flesh. And then, he had to find a way for all flesh to live in harmony for heaven knew how long, eschewing any kind of violence or vengeance within the household of floating domesticity. No easy measure, no short cuts to salvation there.

If we are to build an Ark for our times, in our own landscape, our own sea of sin, we will need together to repent of the sins of disaffection and desecration; to repent actively, explicitly, and unequivocally of our racism; to repent explicitly, actively, and unrequitedly of our violence, domesticated or wild; to repent actively, explicitly, and incrementally of our addiction to personal arsenals, the temptation to arm ourselves against our own beloved neighbours, and especially the arming of the vulnerable, the violent, the very young, the very angry, and the very sad against themselves and others.

The explicit rejection of racism means that we white people need to do our own work to understand and undo the scaffold of white supremacy. Our recoiling from domestic violence might mean having the courage to walk with a friend in need of help and advice. The active repentance of our society’s gun violence may involve putting our prayers into action, repeating our demands for change and for safety not only to God, but to our legislators. We may differ wildly on what must change, but we might at least agree that a teen-aged orphan with a track record for trouble should not be buying a high-powered rifle. Perhaps we can start there.

Just before the passage that we read this morning, setting the bow in the sky as a sign of the covenant of mercy between God and all flesh, God tells Noah that since humanity was made in God’s image, God will require a reckoning for our lifeblood. God considers violence against any one of us violence against God’s own self. When we bruise one another, we bruise God. In return, God will protect us as closely and as fiercely as God would protect God’s own heart.

If we are to take Lent seriously, as a season of repentance, we must be active, explicit, constructive, and courageous as we take up tools to build an Ark; as we take our responsibilities seriously, in obedience to God, to stand in covenanted relationship with God and all flesh, all whom God has sent us to share in God’s mercy. God knows how hard we find it to stay afloat. But God has promised, to Noah, through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, in the new covenant consecrated by Christ in his own flesh and blood, that God will not let us down, not let us drown.

Let us pray:

O Christ, who has led the way through death so that we might find life; who has rescued even the disobedient from their prison of sin; who has redeemed unrighteous by your righteousness: give us hearts of true repentance, that we might find ourselves restored by your grace to right relationship with God and with one another, loving God with our whole selves, and all flesh as though it were our neighbour, through the mercy of God’s covenant. Amen


Featured image: Lightning. Public domain, via wikicommons

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We came here after Columbine

We came here after Columbine
Our children learned long division
lock-down drills, how to talk
to someone whose school had been shot up
after Chardon

We became citizens
after Red Lake, after West Nickel Mines
we thought it our duty to take care
give care, love our neighbors
after Sandy Hook, after Marysville-Pilchuck
nothing changed

Like a baby bald eagle
our guns outgrew their protected status
expanded their habitat
encroached ever more closely upon
populated areas
after Aurora, after Orlando, after Las Vegas

After Marjory Stoneman Douglas
I am about ready to surrender
Let’s paint them
red, white, and blue
have some clergyman
compose a pledge
teach our children to recite it
hand on heart
never let them touch the ground
funeral them with fire
when they retire
inspire the kind of awe
that keeps them in glass cases
and imprinted on underwear
but never stuffed
in a back pocket
for the school run

fold them with ceremony
hand them to the widows
and the grieving mothers
when national tragedy strikes
after Townsville, after Freeman, after Marshall County
hang them at half mast
symbols of our devotions
dangling in the breeze

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Do not give your heart to the ashes

A sermon for Ash Wednesday, February 14th 2018

Toward the end of last year, we visited family in California. It was not long after some of the worst wildfires in that state in anyone’s memory. The smoke still hung in patches, depending on the day. On our second day there, we drove over the mountains to hike among the giant redwoods. Returning, summitting, cresting, on the slope down we saw across the valley new, acrid, black smoke rising and funnelling across the hills opposite. Fortunately, that fire didn’t get too far, but it was a reminder of how close and how quickly the ashes can accumulate and overwhelm.

We reassure ourselves often with talk of the cleansing properties of fire, and the renewing of the earth beneath the ashes, but before long, the rain that doused those flames had turned to floods, and hillsides cleared of their armour of trees and brush fell down and buried the structural survivors of the summer conflagrations. Their ashes were no protection against the deluge.

The ashes that we wear on this, the first day of Lent, are not a badge of protection nor an amulet against sin. Ashes cannot save us. That is not what they are for.

Poet Frank X. Walker tells the story, in his poem, Fireproof, from the collection, Affralachia, of a church burned by racially-motivated arsonists, and how the “church folk” find God beyond the ashes [quoted by permission]:


the heart
of the bible belt
is steepled
the souls of church folk
have pews
the home of gospel music
has been forever altered
because only a devil
could set fire
to a church

but church people
are like fire ants
as soon as the smoke clears
they’ll be stirring up cement
testing new extinguishers
installing a smoke alarm
in the pulpit

before you can say
chapter twenty
verses seven through ten
they will stop moaning and wailing
and sift through the ashes
tip over charred and smoky stained glass
looking for the mourners’ bench
and come Sunday
twice as many worshippers
will pray on it
from a cross
the street
under a tree
counting pennies
and their blessings
starting a new building fund
’til the roof is raised
and the foundation poured
thanking the Lord
for a new day
and their right minds
regretful for needing
such a powerful message
to continue believing
that God is good and wise and merciful
offering up prayers
for them that done the deed
asking the Lord
to touch their dark hearts
smother out all that evil
guide them
on a straighter narrower path

church people
are fireproof
and Faith
won’t just go up
in smoke

“Regretful for needing such a powerful message to continue believing that God is good and wise and merciful.”

The ashes, those signs of our mortality, our broken ways, our burial beneath the sins of our own making, our own inheritance, our own oppression, our own neglect;

the ashes cannot make us clean, but clear the way for the rain which in its turn takes advantage of our own burnt souls to bury them in fresh mud and rockslides;

the ashes will not save us; they are, rather, that all too “powerful message that provokes us to continue believing that God is good and wise and merciful,” and in God’s mercy, mitigated to us by Christ, is our hope of getting clean, and breaking loose from the rubble of all that has fallen down around our ears.

The landscape within which we live is littered with sin, from the scars we inflict upon the earth on up through the twisted veins of hearts that would burn down a church built in the image of God’s mercy. And it is impossible to stand here in an attitude of repentance tonight without acknowledging the complicity of our common life in the deaths of 17 students, children, at a high school in Florida this afternoon. Our participation in systems of sin, as its priests and as its victims, is as inevitable as the ice of winter.

But the mercy of God is as unanswerable, and as unpredictable; as overwhelming and astonishing as the first touch of spring, the triumph of life returning from fire and flood, ice and isolation, as though it were irrepressible.

It is out of this mercy, this touch of life, that we find the strength to turn, to repent, to begin to rebuild. The cycle will repeat, and we will find ourselves buried again and again; but here is God whose property is always to have mercy, and we are not helpless. For here is “Faith [that] won’t just go up in smoke.”

I thought again of that drive, cresting the hill and seeing smoke on the downward slope, when I read lines from another poet, from R.S. Thomas’  Mass for Hard Times:


Because we cannot be clever and honest
and are inventors of things more intricate
than the snowflake – Lord have mercy.

Because we are full of pride
in our humility, and because we believe
in our disbelief – Lord have mercy.

Because we will protect ourselves
from ourselves to the point
of destroying ourselves – Lord have mercy.

And because on the slope to perfection,
when we should be half-way up,
we are half-way down – Lord have mercy.

May our hope be in the Lord whose property is always to have mercy. May our hearts be broken only enough to let life flow through them. May our faith in the life, love, and mercy of Christ be fireproof. Amen


R.S. Thomas, ‘Kyrie,’ from Mass for Hard Times, in Collected Later Poems 1988-2000 (Bloodaxe Books, 2004), 135

Frank X. Walker, Fireproof, in Affrilachia (Old Cove Press, 2000), 56-58

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A fleeting vision of glory

A sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 2018

It’s hard to know just what happened on that mountaintop. For all that we have three accounts in three different gospels, the story is so strange that our imagination fails us a little when we try to put ourselves in the place of Peter, James, and John, and to see with their vision. They describe Jesus’ clothes – but we know that this story is not about the divine dress code. They want to build tents, stay in the moment – they need more time themselves to process what is happening. Instead, they are left with a moment’s epiphany, enough to pass on an impression of glory, and the confusion of a divine embrace.

Once upon a time, I taught Sunday School. We were studying the story of Hagar, after Abraham expelled her and Ismael into the desert, and she thought that they would die of thirst. If you remember, God spoke to her as she sat under a tree waiting for the end, and showed her a well where she could revive herself, her child, and both their spirits.

I asked the young children I was with whether they thought that God had made the well miraculously appear, or whether the well was already there, and God had shown Hagar the way back to life. It was the peak of the Harry Potter craze, and I was sure that the children were all about magical thinking, but they did not answer quite in the way that I expected.

They were unanimous in their decision that God did not make up the well on the spot, but that God did open Hagar’s eyes to the providence that God had already arranged for her and her son; that God revealed the way back to life that she had been unable to find by herself.

Jesus told his first followers that to understand the kingdom of God, one must see with the heart of a child.

To follow the hearts of my student teachers, then, the Transfiguration might have been not about Jesus’ dazzling white clothes, but about the vision of his disciples, their eyes open to the glory of God that inhabited Jesus all along; about the revelation of God that we so often miss, milling about at the foot of the mountain.

As is often the case with Mark, his is the most straightforward and basic account of the story. In Mark, we find only the essential details: Jesus has gone on a retreat with three of his disciples. On that retreat, they have a religious experience in which they see Jesus shining as though all of the dust of the mountain and the dirt of daily living had been scoured away, and he was presented to them fresh, and clean, and whole; the glorious image of God shining out of the face of the Son of Man.

As though to reinforce the point they saw Moses and Elijah, the symbols of God’s ongoing revelation to God’s people, the Law and the Prophets, the signs of God’s continuous and continual engagement with and revelation to the world since the beginning of our biblical history. And now they were joined by Jesus, and a voice from heaven said, “Listen to him.”

In him, you will find God reaching out in love to all of God’s people.

This mountaintop assembly reassures the disciples that the self-revelation of God is a perennial thing; that, to borrow the tagline of our sisters in the United Church of Christ, “God is still speaking.” It confirms Christ as the crowning glory of God’s appearance among us: “Listen to him.”

“For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Even Jesus’ first and closest disciples, though, had trouble at times focusing on that grace and glory. Even Jesus took them away, apart, to the top of a high mountain, clear air, in order that they might see clearly what they were just beginning to understand: that this Jesus was the image and incarnation of God’s love and glory on earth. Even they, who had witnessed his healing miracles and his profound authority, found themselves distracted by sore feet and Roman empires, hungry bellies and harsh words, family troubles and fascinating diversions, gossip and gamesmanship. Even when Jesus was right in front of them on a daily basis, it took effort, concentration, and a deliberate removal from distractions to see him clearly.

It could almost be a parable for our own lives.

We are here, seeking Christ in Word and Sacrament, hungry for God’s self-revelation, because we know that this Jesus, revealed on the mountaintop, is the very grace and glory of God among us. Yet we find ourselves distracted constantly by grief and by gossip, by violations and violence, by fear and trembling tears. We are busy with the dust and dirt of daily life, and we rarely find the time to wash our vision clean and see the dazzling light which God has created for us to walk in.

That is what Lent is for.

We end the season after Epiphany with a reminder that in order to see clearly, in order to hear God’s voice, in order to find God’s self-revelation, we might occasionally need to step out of valley, the rut into which we have worn ourselves, and retreat into prayer. That we might need, as thirsty and as desperate as we are, to set ourselves under a tree to wait upon God’s word. That we may need to find the time to climb a metaphorical mountain (or a real one), to seek with intention and energy the vision that God has in store for us.

However we do it: through Wednesday meetings or individual observance, the giving up of something whose absence will remind us to fill our hearts instead with God, or the taking on of extra obligations, seeking to serve Christ in others: however we do it through prayer and practice, through the reading of God’s word and the meditation of our hearts, through fasting and the deliberate sanctification of time; we have time set aside, six weeks out of the year, an annual Sabbath to rest in God’s grace and glory, which has already redeemed us from our sin and sorrow, our dust and ashes, if only we could see it clearly.

In the story of Elijah’s departure, Elisha asks to receive the mantle of that great prophet. “If you can see me,” answers Elijah, all power will be yours to do the work of a prophet, to see the will of God.

It is all in the seeing. It is in the seeking that we find the clear vision of the glory of God, which is already waiting for us, on the mountaintop, in the wilderness, in Word and in Sacrament, and even, if we look closely, in our own lives: the glory of God which is veiled only by our own tendency to distraction.

If Epiphany is about its revealing, then Lent is about our looking for it; but we have the assurance, as we enter the search, the forty days of wilderness wandering, that it has already been found, and that God, the God of Abraham and Hagar, of Ismael, Moses, and Elijah, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ will not let us wander alone, nor fail if we falter.

That is the promise both of the desert and of the mountaintop: of the Patriarchs, the Law and the Prophets; a promise confirmed and crowned by the revelation of Jesus Christ, who is the image, the face, the summit of God’s glory.


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