Travel: Italy (Day Three)

After a quick breakfast in we headed out for the Basilica di San Marco. The original Benedictine monastery was established in the 13th century and was later occupied by the Dominicans who then refurbished and expanded the facility with the support of the Medici family. The architecture is phenomenal but the reason you are there is for the frescoes that grace the walls, which were painted by the great Dominican artist, Fra Angelico. Every monk’s cell has a scene from the life of Christ along with many of the walls along the hallways and cloister.

There are also works by several of the other brothers and this one of the Lord’s Supper caught my eye in particular but it wasn’t Jesus I saw first…

A few more from other artist.

I ended my time in this most holy place by praying the Rosary before this crucifix. It was a peaceful spot.

After a quick lunch (some tasty pasta) we worked our way through the crowds to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka: Duomo).

I’m still not entirely sure how it happened but will standing gawking (I apparently was silently screaming, “Gullible Tourist!) I managed to get swindled out of $25 Euros. I’ll try not be so nice in the future.

The interior of both the baptistery and the main church are quite austere when compared to some of the others we’ve seen, but as I said yesterday, “Look up.”

Below the Duomo is a church dating back to time between the 1st and 4th centuries. Only fragments remain but it provides a glimpse of our very distant past.

We made out way back to the VRBO by mid-afternoon. The heat today was wearing on us all, which allowed us time to rest and freshen up before heading out to dinner where we enjoyed some of the best Florence has to offer and what they are famous for: red meat/steak. You tell them what you want, but you do not tell them how to prepare it (rare/medium/etc). You order and they deliver. Trust me: they are the experts and you will not be disappointed.

And then we ate…

There was salad and bread and roasted potatoes and Florentine steak and Prosecco and Chianti Classico and caffe corretto (Sambuca was the correction to the coffee) and limon cello and Amaro and tiramisu and Tarte Della Nona with pine nuts and Strawberry Pavlova.

Nighty night!

Travel: Italy (Day Two)

The day began with the sun glorifying the gold cross on top of the Duomo.

It was a wonderfully cool morning, so we walked up the street to Artigianale’s for a croissant and cappuccino. From there we made our way through the early morning bustle of the office workers and arrived at the Uffizi Gallery Florence precisely on schedule.

The Uffizi is like walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It just never stops. You will either suffer from Stendhal Syndrome (being overwhelmed by such wondrous works of art) or Florence Disease (simply by being overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of art.) And there is much to see.

And don’t forget to look up, because the ceilings are just as beautiful…

As we finished we stopped for some fizzy water then made our way to the Santa Croce Basilica. So much beauty…

We sat with this view and spent some time in prayer before walking the inside perimeter and seeing the side chapels. I had no idea. This is the place where some of the greatest minds in history have been buried. When I say greatest, I mean…

And many more. The floor is a maze of grave makers so worn that you can no longer read the names and for me, I found myself walking around them or between them so as not to “step” on anyone. From there we made our way into the church museum and again, just so much to see…

It was then that I simply decided to focus on one small detail of the works we were seeing. It allowed the opportunity to truly absorb a small piece of what was being offered.

All this could only be followed up by some tasty food, so we made our way over to Oinos Ristorante / Pizzeria where I had lots of water, Penne al Chianti, and a nice glass of Chianti. We went on from there just wandering the city where we encountered the boar at the Boar Market and found a nice glass of wine in Signorvino along the Arno River.

Of all that I’ve been amazed with outside of the city, art, and food, it is the mass of people. So many here to take pictures of what they see but it does not seem that they take it in. They are moving so fast that it is not possible to form any real attachment to the art or to understand it. That’s not a judgment, I just find myself standing in front one piece that “speaks” to me and not really worrying about the rest. Lectio Divina is the method of reading until the text elicits a response from you. Seems art should do the same. You don’t go until you’ve seen everything there is to offer, you go until something speaks and then you let it write its message on your heart. I’m going to remember this as I make my way through the next two weeks.

The day ended with the sun setting behind the duomo.

Buoyant note, amici!

Travel: Italy (Travel Day One and it was close to 48 hours long!)

Travel and travel and travel… I almost missed only one flight when I messed up the time zones. Fortunately I was sitting next to the gate when I realized it was boarding, otherwise, I would have only made it as far as New York / JFK.

Any way you slice it, it is a long trip. The backside gets sore, there are NO comfortable sitting positions for an 8.5 hour flight, and the boredom sets in to the point where you’re simply watching the miles click off, but then you hear the engines begin to slow and your ears begin to pop as the altitude decreases and suddenly, those 8.5 hours are a distant memory.

Following the flights, we took a 1/2 hour train to Rome. Between the graffitied walls and towering apartment buildings, you may catch a glimpse of something far more ancient but mostly it will be the orange poppies that grow all long the tracks that will draw your eye.

The 1/2 hour trip (and a WILD taxi ride through the narrow streets of Rome—made Enid drivers look like Mario Andretti) and we arrived at the Roma Termini, which is the main train terminal in Rome. I kept expecting a NY subway but…

It’s an airport on wheels and a zoo but once you figure out the system you will get to where you want to go, which in our case was Florence.

The ride includes a series of tunnels and each tunnel is like a small jump further and further into the country and farmlands. Hay, other crops, and vineyards (we’ll have more of those later this week) and with a train that clicks along at about 120 mph, you cover the 200 miles rather quickly.

We did do some touristy things but for the most part were a bit pooped out, so we walked the streets and just enjoyed being in Italy. What is so remarkable is when you take into consideration how long these places have been around. For example, I decided to take a picture of a beautiful statue of Christ crucified high on a pillar. Near the base was a plaque. The statue was erected in the year 1338.

In addition, throughout the old city there are small niches, mostly at corners, with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and/or Jesus. These are two of the images that worked out:

What an amazing day and perhaps the most moving bit occurred as Heidi, Scott, and I were sitting at the Cafe’ Cibreo enjoying a light snack and a beverage (they were having a white wine and I was enjoying an iced coffee). Heidi stopped in mid-sentence and said, “We’re in Italy!”

Yep. That about sums the day up. We’re in Italy and… yeah.

Travel: Italy (-1 day)

The flight leaves tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. so I’ll be up and going by 3:30 a.m. That may sound like a complaint but I’m certain no one would listen seeing as how I’m on the way to Italy for fourteen days (a week in Florence and a week in rome). It’ll be tough! The weather sounds absolutely miserable (highs in the low 80s and lows in the low 60s and mostly sun) but I will endure.

I’ve had a passport for at least 30 years and this is the first time I’ve ever used it. That sounds crazy but life happened along the way. As I sit here in a hotel room in OKC I can’t stop myself from smiling. Trust me. I know exactly how fortunate I am to have such an opportunity, so I plan to take you all along with me.

The goal is to post once a day but I’m not going to turn it into a job. I definitely want to enjoy the trip and take it all in, so if I miss a day, I won’t be losing sleep.

Tomorrow I go from OKC to Atlanta to JFK to Rome. I’ll arrive there at 7 a.m. and meet my friends at the airport in Rome. How sexy is that! “Oh, yeah. Just meeting some friends in Rome. No big deal.” HA!

Not sure where I’ll write from next but at the moment I’m thinking JFK. For now…

Sermon: Easter 5 RCL C – “Confirmation Bias”


A man wants to enter an exclusive club, but he doesn’t know the password. Another man walks to the door and the doorman says 12, the man says 6, and is let in. Another man walks up and the doorman says 6, the man says 3, and is let in. Thinking he had heard enough, he walks up to the door and the doorman says 10, he says 5, and he isn’t let in. What should he have said?

I actually thought about not giving you the answer but then I figured you would spend the rest of the sermon trying to figure it out. The answer: three. Instead of doing math, you should have counted. The word twelve has six letters, the word six has three letters, and the word ten also has three.

Ever found yourself in one of those situations where you know you know the answer—what’s right/wrong, how something works, etc—only to discover that you didn’t know as much as you thought? I’ll answer that one for you: yes. You have found yourself in that very situation. We all have.

We can end up there for any number of reasons but we can become solidified in our thinking through what is known as confirmation bias. The easiest definition I came across says, “Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.” (Source) For example: I believe the earth is flat (for the record, I do not)… I believe the earth is flat and I can go out on the internet and other reliable sources (haha) and find data to support this belief. Not only can I find data, but I can also find other people who believe the earth is flat and so we all come together and form a community. Within that community, I find support and friendship. People who believe what I believe and who will further help me to prove my beliefs. We feed off one another. Confirmation bias.

Another example: Leave it to Beaver. Wally and Ward Cleaver are outside cooking on the barbecue. Wally turns to his dad and says, “Whenever we cook inside, Mom always does the cooking. But whenever we cook outside you always do it. How come?” To which Ward replies “Well it’s sort of traditional, I guess. You know they say a woman’s place is in the home and I suppose as long as she’s in the home she might as well be in the kitchen.” If I held that particular belief I suspect that my lifespan would be considerably less than it is presently, but if I did, I could go out and find all sorts of documentation supporting this attitude and belief, and all sorts of people who support this belief—men and women—and not only that, I can also go to the Bible and find many different texts to support this belief! You may try and counter my arguments and your arguments may be better than mine but confirmation bias rules the day. I’ve got documentation, statistics, my support group, and the Good Book itself backing me up. I believe… I know “X” to be true and you can’t change my mind.

Ultimately, these confirmation biases, with regard to our faith and our relationship with God and one another, cause us to put up barriers, barriers that deny those outside of our circle and even ourselves access to God. If you do not believe as I believe then you are cut off. If I do something that is outside of what I believe, then I am in danger of cutting myself off. In today’s Scripture readings, we see how this works. There were two examples of it in our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles and one in our Gospel. The first was Peter.

From our studies in the past, we know that for the Israelites, there were all sorts of laws governing food, and what was clean and unclean. They had their Law, traditions, teachings, etc. that would support them—confirmation bias—yet Peter saw a sheet descending that contained all sorts of animals, both clean and unclean and God said to Peter, “‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’” Peter knew what he knew and even though God Himself had just told Peter that it is OK, Peter had been so committed to his bias that he could not accept God’s words, so God corrected him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Peter had been holding onto a truth and even when God presented him with a new truth, he did not at first believe it. However, he did eventually come around to this new understanding/belief and was then able to apply it to other situations, specifically the gentiles, which leads to the second example.

Following the vision of the sheet, Peter was called by God to Joppa where he baptized the members of a family. Hearing this, we are told “when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” These “circumcised believers”, Jewish converts to Christianity, knew what they knew and were still under the impression that only Jews could be followers of Christ and receive the Holy Spirit. Within their community, this was a well-supported belief and they had all the confirmation they needed to uphold it, so they set up barriers to others, denying them access to God, but when Peter came along with new information and the truth, they heard and believed. “They praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’”

The third example of the confirmation bias comes from our Gospel reading and it is of one who heard the truth but refused to believe: Judas. It seems that Judas had some very clear beliefs on whom the Messiah was going to be and Jesus did not fit the bill. Even though he was witness to the miracles and heard the teachings, these truths about God and who Jesus is had no effect on Judas and so instead of being transformed by these truths, he remained rigid in his beliefs, not only placing barriers before others but even denying himself access to God leading his spirit to such a place of despair that he went out and hanged himself.

The truth can set us free from those things that bind us but our stubborn hearts can lead us to death.

When we look more closely at the events we can begin to see ourselves. Are we ones like Peter who can have the truth spoken into our biases and allow that truth to break down the barriers of our lives or are we ones like Judas whose barriers are so unyielding that the truth cannot enter in and be heard? Do we hold to our beliefs like the “circumscribed believers” did originally or will we also allow the truth to break down barriers giving all who seek access to God?

Jesus commanded us to “love one another” and he said, “Behold, I make all things new.” For us to love one another and to live into this new creation, then we must tear down the barriers instead of fortifying the ones we have and erecting new ones. Even if someone is in error, it is not our job to deny them access to God because it is God who will speak the truth to them and correct them. Hear the truth, break down the barriers, and let God be God. He does not need us to protect him. If he did, then he wouldn’t be God.

If someone is in error and they hold some very strong beliefs—keeping in mind that you might be the one in error!—then no amount of arguing is going to persuade them otherwise and most likely, all your arguing will simply push them further away. So instead of “getting in their face,” show them God and allow His words and wisdom to open their eyes so that they may see and know the truth.

Let us pray: Loving Father, faith in Your Word is the way to wisdom. Help us to think about Your Divine Plan so that we may grow in the truth. Open our eyes to Your deeds, our ears to the sound of Your call, so that our every act may help us share in the life of Jesus. Give us the grace to live the example of the love of Jesus, which we celebrate in the Eucharist and see in the Gospel. Form in us the likeness of Your Son and deepen His Life within us. Amen.

Short Story: CIAO

Second place in the Enid Writers’ Club

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?
T.S. Eliot / The Wasteland

We had met at the opening night of an art showing in Chelsea in happening New York City, which sounds far more interesting and romantic than it actually was.   I had managed to sneak out a few minutes early from my position as an executive sales agent (a.k.a. telemarketer for an up and coming dish network, that promised to provide the viewer with a high-quality cinematic experience for the entire family, along with enough soft-core porn to keep the average household suitably entertained).  So, being too early to meet my equally aspiring comrades for a night of frivolity and microbrews at Death Ave., I opted to drop into the gallery next door, which had more than its allowable number of hollow-cheeked and somewhat attractive women mingling aimlessly amongst a smaller gathering of man-bun sporting assholes. 

She, Teresa Buccola, had been by far the most attractive of the hollow-cheeked and had entered the gallery immediately after me, hurrying in as the front door closed behind me. 

“Thanks,” she said, sarcastically.  “Typical,” she continued as she pushed towards the back of the gallery. 

“Sorry….”  

I didn’t see you… whatever. 

Art is subjective and this particular brand of art was subject to being buried with tons of more appealing swill at the nearest landfill where even the rats would be appalled at the property devaluing contributions.  And, as I am prone to do whilst wandering alone at any outing that doesn’t provide sustenance to keep me busy chewing instead of speaking, I let slip a few choice words while attempting to discern what appeared to be a “sculpture” of a spider devouring an ironing board. 

“Looks more palatable than these… what?  Tapas?” I said, holding up something that resembled the pigs-in-a-blanket that I had enjoyed as a child, but that tasted like overcooked Brussel sprouts. 

“What?” 

There she was, Miss Typical. 

I stared, the eleven between my properly trimmed eyebrows surely adding a century. 

“These,” I said, holding up the offending non-morsel on a toothpick, “are not very good.  That’s all.” 

“I made them.” 

Awkward silence and additional staring. 

I eventually blurted out, “I’m sorry about the door.” 

“What?” 

“I’m sorry about the door.  I didn’t see you coming.  I really would have held it open for you if I had.” 

“What’s wrong with the food,” she asked, pointing at what remained on my plate. 

“Well….” 

I was not normally at a loss for words, but not wanting to insert my foot any deeper than I already had, I repeated my loquacious self.  

“Well.…” 

She laughed.  Then she covered her mouth and laughed even more.   

It was a sound that even the most stoic of hearts could fall in love with and I did.  Right there in the middle of so much bad art and man-buns, I fell in love.   

“You didn’t make these.” 

She laughed even harder.   

There were sharp glances from those who refuse to let even the slightest glint of joy enter their eyes for fear of smearing their perfectly mascaraed lids, but she saw only me. 

“Why are you here?” 

Between her fingers, holding back guffaws that I would later learn lingered only a breath below the surface, she said, “I had to pee!” 

And the laughter peeled from her in great torrents of uninhibited joy. 

“Marry me.” 

“What?” 

“Marry me.” 

And suddenly the entire gallery was caught up in her merriment and joy. 

Two months later, I tried to give her a ring and make it official.  She wasn’t ready.  Twenty-seven days after that—give or take an hour or so—I was glad she hadn’t taken me up on the offer, but there is nothing like time and habit and predictability to take something that should not have been to…. 

“Where are you?” 

“Hmm?” 

“Where are you? You’ve slid around the corner again and I lost track of you.” 

“What?” 

“Adam!” 

“What!?” 

“Focus for shit’s sake!  I’ve been talking to you for the last twenty minutes and if you can tell me one thing I’ve said, I’ll spend the next twenty minutes pleasantly visiting with your mother.” 

Hesitantly I said, “I don’t think either of you would enjoy that.”

“Well, I know I wouldn’t, but if it will pull you out of whatever dark dream you’ve wandered off into, then I’ll be happy to endure.” 

She could, on occasion, be just a touch dramatic, but I’ve been home for at least two hours, and not only could I not tell her what she said in the last twenty minutes, I’m also quite certain that the last one hundred and twenty minutes are equally as blank. 

She had a way of going on about things that shifted the mind and ears out of gear.  Like closing your eyes and settling on the bottom at the deep end of the pool.  The necessary and appropriate sounds are present, but the sound waves are so stretched out and distorted that by the time the thirty-three and one-third rpm recording reaches and undulates the tympanic membrane it… never mind.   

Bottom line: on occasion, I tuned her out and drifted in my own thoughts, which is why this particular moment was more taxing than others. 

Last Wednesday, I had been with Teresa for thirty-six months, and exactly one week and a day ago, she had reminded me of this gladsome event.  Unfortunately, she had remembered, but I had not.  That misfired synapse had brought on at least forty-eight hours of fighting, another twenty-seven of pouting, nineteen minutes of making love, and untold hours of sulking and tentative glances over several meals, sleepless naps, and a sixty-three-minute conversation about adopting a mesmerizing chimera kitten while gazing at said kitten who slept peacefully ignorant behind the plexiglass of their potentially traumatized life that would have inevitably been spent being taxied from one ‘parent’ to the other following the protracted divorce and ensuing custody battle. 

‘Why?’, you ask would I forget such an event as a thirty-six month anniversary and then go on to consider adopting a Felis catus, regardless of those bilateral markings and David Bowie eyes? 

Ciao

No.  Not “Goodbye” or “Hello”.  Ciao… a perfume and not the more recent olfactory delights of Vince Camuto, but the 1980s variety, the original, by Houbigant. 

In 1980, even though a healthy American teen, I was far more likely to have solved the issue of quantum physics before recognizing that a girl was hitting on me.  I was more concerned with when squirrel season opened and whether or not I would finally be considered old enough to receive a Seiko Digital Chronograph Watch A229-5000 (I had no idea what all those buttons did, but I was certain that my life would not be fulfilled without them), but then, in the ninth grade…  

Following second period, I was walking down the hall to an hour in the library.  There was a group of girls chatting happily as they made their way to whatever third period demanded their presence, when she stopped, turned, and smiled.  I didn’t even know her name, but she walked straight towards me.  I was preparing to step out of her way, clearly she had not seen me, when she suddenly stopped, stared me in the eyes, and said, “I’ve wanted to hug you.” 

I remember my exact response. 

“Thcbl cy bracooit… eau.” 

She smiled and then pressed her body into mine, wrapping her arms around me as she did. 

The next thing I clearly remembered was Toni Fallow walking away with a quick glance over her shoulder and a smile that said she would be back for another hug.  For my part, I was happy to oblige her for the next two-and-a-half years.  She was my first true kiss, first bare breast, first love, and first broken heart. 

Today, walking out of the office, looking forward to a potentially happy evening with Teresa of thirty-six months, one week and one day, anticipating episode one of season three of a mindless but intoxicating show of conquering thrones, a nice meal, and a bit of scotch (“Hello, Cousin Glen!”), there was Toni.  Every kiss, touch, moment, desire, passion… all of her.  There she was in a single scent of a 1980s perfume that was no longer even produced and my knees buckled. 

“Toni!”   

I called out, without hesitation or concern for who heard.  She had to be here.   

“Toni!”   

I tried to follow that scent of memories, but it was quickly lost in all the noise of sweat and day-old deodorant. 

“Toni.” 

I stopped.   

I could have cried.   

I remembered her hair.  Her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders and down the smoothness of her back.   

I remembered her skin.  Skin bequeathed by some ancient race and born of the moon’s embrace. 

And I remember her scent. 

Her scent.  Her scent…  

“Adam!” 

“Teresa!” 

Gawking. 

I’m going to regret that. 

“Teresa.  I’m here.  Just… just a long day.  Lots on my mind.  Sorry.” 

“Fine.” 

Ah.  There it was.  The end of all conversations and the beginning of a cold night. 

“Tiramisu, pl….” 

“Don’t.”   

A finger in my face. 

“You can’t treat me like this and then spin around inside your whims and expect me to take it!  I won’t” 

Very emphatic.  I somehow doubt she would appreciate the internal commentary. 

“Tiram…..” 

“No!  Not this time.  I’m tired of trying to help you work your shit out.  Figure it out for yourself!” 

I was in the process of doing just that before you interrupted my… my waking dreams!  Dreams that took me a long way from you.  Dreams of Toni on the night… 

God, she was beautiful.  Every other princess at the junior prom had purchased their dress from some store with a label.  Toni’s mom had made hers.  Chanel should have been so fortunate to have created something so potent.  It covered everything that it was supposed to and revealed everything that the teenage male mind could hope to imagine or caress.  And she was mine and I was the envy of all of the boys and even a few of the girls.   

We stood dancing (not really, we were engaged in a kiss that would have made the one from The Princess Bride look like the fairy tale that it was) while Steve Perry sang out, “I’m forever yours, faithfully…..”  I remember the tight little circles our bodies moved in and I remember the feel of her lips parted against mine and I remember the hormones pulsing between us and I remember Ciao.  When the song ended, we discovered that we were alone on the dance floor.  Those that watched our self-indulgent oblivion broke out into applause and laughter at the love that would never end.  Except, it didn’t even make it to our senior year.    

Sometime during that next summer, he entered in.  His name is not even worth mentioning, much less remembering.  He was a blip.  In retrospect, I allowed him to be more of a blip than he should have been, but by the time I recognized my ignorance, I was almost forty years old and Toni had been happily married for fifteen years and had three beautiful daughters of her own.  I, on the other hand, find myself divorced (no children, thanks be to God), and presently in a questionable relationship of thirty-six months, one week, and one day, wondering if I had made the gravest mistake of my life at the age of seventeen. 

I had seen her only once since those high school days of innocently passionate kisses and brushes of flesh in the hallowed halls of Teenage High.  We had both been attending the wedding of two mutual high school friends who had, in fact, survived not only those same hallowed halls that we had frolicked in but also all the years that followed and who were only now making the ultimate commitment of the self to one another.  They were happy and as desperately in love now as I thought was when Toni first pressed her body into mine following second period on that day in the 1980s. 

It wasn’t an awkward conversation nor was it comfortable.  It was a conversation between two adults who knew the touch of one another’s flesh before age, wisdom, responsibilities, and life had kneaded the passion of youth from its midst.  If she had been wearing Ciao I would likely have abandoned every aspect of my life to be with her, but as it were, I think she was wearing the same heavy Estée Lauder that her mother had worn, which is why I am now divorced and presently with Miss thirty-six months, one week and one day: Teresa. 

“Hmm.” 

“What?”  I had forgotten she was there.  “Wh… sorry?”

“You, ‘Hmmmed.’” 

A moment to calculate.

Resolve.

Ahh, Toni.   

Ciao. 

“Tiramisu?” 

A silence and then a glance up from the magazine she had been slapping through.  Was that hope I saw or resignation? 

Her lips pursed as though she was experiencing some painful gas, then she again said softly and with only a hint of desperation, “What?” 

“Let’s get the cat.”

Candle

Photo by Jasmyn Favager on Unsplash

From our Saints’ Book Club this evening…

We’ve been reading the second book of The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock and tonight we discussed book two, The Wounds of God. Father Peregrine writes a poem that scandalizes a fellow monk but it is a poem that speaks and elicits the passion of God’s love.

This vigil is long.
What time I have sat here,
Watching the candle flame’s
Slow, passionate exploration kiss the night.
The blind and gentle thrusting tongue of light
Finds out the secrets of the dumb receptive dark.
Her sensuous silence trembles with delight.

May you know this delight.

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL C – “Light”


There was a very poor Christian man living in the countryside of China.  When it came time for his prayers, he always wanted to make a sacrificial offering to God so, because food was scarce, he would place a dish of butter on the window sill.  One day his cat came along and ate the butter and then went on to develop the habit of eating the butter, the offering to God.  To remedy this, before his time of prayer, the man leashed the cat to the bedpost.  This man was so revered for his piety that others joined him as disciples and worshipped as he did. Generations later, long after the holy man was dead, his followers continued to place an offering of butter on the window sill during their time of prayer and meditation.  And, in addition, with no idea why, each one bought a cat and leashed it to the bedpost.

Traditions.  Sometimes our traditions make sense and sometimes it seems we’re all just tying the cat to the bedpost.  (For the record: The Queen would not appreciate this tradition.)  When it comes to the traditions of the Church there are some who see our traditions as an integral part of our worship and others who see them as baggage from a superstitious past.  I for one am a firm believer in traditions because worship of our God should involve the entire person and all the senses.   G.K. Chesterton writes, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”  Tradition is not just about what we think ought to be done, but what we as a Christian people collectively throughout the history of the Church believed should be done.  Not simply for the sake of doing them—tying the cat to the bedpost—but doing them because they give greater depth and meaning to our faith.  Many of our traditions are not only Christian but Jewish as well.  From the practice of the Last Supper that evolved out of the Passover Meal, to the celebration of Pentecost, which was originally the feast of Shavuot in Judaism.

Our Gospel reading today provides another example: “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem.  It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”  For us, we read that as just one of the many Jewish Feast days, but for the Jewish people it is tradition, and if we look a bit more closely, we discover that it is about our tradition as well.

We know that the Israelites had been taken into captivity on a few occasions and we also know that the land of the Israelites was occupied by various foreign armies.  A couple of hundred years before the birth of Christ, the occupying armies were the Greeks.  At first, things were at least peaceful.  The Jews were allowed to continue their worship of the One True God, but then along came Antiochus Epiphanes who changed everything, which included the profaning of the Temple and trying to force the Israelites to worship the Greek gods.  This didn’t go over so well and eventually led to rebellion against the Greeks with the family of Maccabees/Israelites leading the fight.  The Maccabees prevailed and afterward, they worked tirelessly to restore and rededicate the Temple and the worship that took place there.  

As part of that first Dedication, all the ornaments that God originally prescribed had to be in place, one of which was the Golden Lampstand that we learn about in Exodus, chapter twenty-five: “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold… six branches going out its sides… you shall make seven lamps for it.”  And this light was to signify the very presence of God.  A bit further on in chapter twenty-seven we are told about the oil for the lamp, “pure beaten olive oil”, which took eight days to prepare.  However, this left the Maccabees in a quandary.  They wanted to dedicate the Temple as quickly as possible, but they only had enough oil for one day.  They could use what they had, but the lamp would go out before the end of the festival or they could use regular oil, which would have worked but would have been against God’s law or they could just wait until the proper oil was ready.  We find their decision in the Talmud (the Rabbinic oral tradition) Shabbat 21b: “And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day.  A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days.  The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays.”  Tradition.  The tradition is known as the Festival of Lights or… Hanukkah.  Hanukkah means, dedication.  As you know, the eight-day festival is celebrated every year in the winter, generally near Christmas and all this places our Gospel reading into context: “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

With that in mind (some may mark this up as a happy coincidence but I’m more in favor of calling it a God-incidence): what did John tell us in the prologue to his Gospel?  John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”  In the chapters leading up to our Gospel, Jesus has saved the woman whom the Pharisees were going to stone to death for adultery, He has told them that He speaks for the Father and that He speaks the truth, He has told them that before Abraham, “I am” (he was), He gave sight to the man born blind, and declared Himself the Good Shepherd but before all this, what did Jesus say about Himself?  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Now, put that all together…

“At that time the festival of the Dedication—the Festival of Lights—the miracle of light—took place in Jerusalem—the very City of God. It was winter—it was the coldest and darkest time of the year, and Jesus—the Light of the World, the light that the darkness will not overcome has—is walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon—he is walking in the very place where God commanded the Israelites to continuously burn a light to signify His presence.”  On the day we are reading about in our Gospel, the True Light of God, Jesus, has entered the Temple, God’s “home” on earth and it is this light, the light of Jesus, that still burns today, but what does that have to do with us and our traditions?

The Golden Lampstand was in the Temple in Jerusalem, but as we know the Temple was eventually destroyed in 70 a.d., so in order to demonstrate the light of God’s presence an eternal lamp/light is hung over the tabernacle (the niche for the Torah scrolls) in every synagogue.  This eternal light is known as the Ner Tamid.  Its use is based on the exact same texts as those used for the Golden Lampstand.  And we continue this tradition with the Sanctuary Lamp that burns above our Tabernacle/Aumbry but our Sanctuary Lamp is not just a cat tied to the bedpost.  It signifies to us the very Real Presence of God, of Jesus in this place… but wait, there’s more!  That Sanctuary Lamp also reminds us of who we are: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

God gave the Israelites a commandment to have an eternal flame signifying his presence in the world and so they built a lampstand and filled it with oil just as he prescribed.  Yet the light that this lampstand emitted was only a sign of God’s presence.  At the feast of the Dedication when Jesus arrived at the Temple, the Light of God, the very presence of God was truly there.  And now, just as the Israelites were given a commandment, so are you, “Let your light shine” for it is indeed the light of Christ and it is a light that the darkness still seeks to overcome but through your faithfulness and perseverance it will burn ever brighter.

Let us pray:
The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us,
The presence of God watches over us,
Wherever we are, God is,
And where God is, all is well.
Amen.

Sinner/Son

Photo by Fabio Sangregorio on Unsplash

Had this crazy idea this morning: what if we created a Place where we didn’t add labels to one another but had true fellowship, where we could come together and break bread and support each other?  What if in that Place we didn’t seek to point out the sins of others but looked to ourselves and identified those errors in our own lives and then sought to turn from those errors?  What if this Place was where we could grow and learn and demonstrate to others that there is another Way?  What if in this Place we chose to love one another instead of hating and degrading everyone we disagree with?  And what if in this Place we worked for true justice and peace and respected the dignity of every person regardless of any and all differences?  

Can we create such a Place?

We can, with God’s help.

I will set a Table in this Place and prepare the meal. 

I identify as sinner/Son.  All sinners/Daughters and Sons are invited.  

Place = God’s House & God’s Rule.  

God’s Rule = Love one another as I have loved you.

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