That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Lenten Journal 2019 (19 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 13

I had a first-in-the-morning appointment at the digestive disease medical office today, a pre-screening for the colonoscopy I have scheduled in two weeks. Weight, blood pressure, review of medications, instructions on which medications to discontinue ahead of the procedure, medical history review, that sort of thing … and, of course, the preparation instructions for the day before.

I can’t really think of anything more appropriate for Lent than colonoscopy prep, can you?

OK, I’m being facetious.

Anyway, on the drive back home I began to see signs of spring that either I had not seen before or had overlooked. Certain trees have those not-yet-quite-green buds that will become leaves. The first of the bulb plants are beginning to emerge; crocus, I imagine but I’m not a gardener so I really don’t know these things. Lots of birds flitting about; I recognize cardinals and American robins but not too many others. I have heard but not yet seen the red-winged black birds that are my favorite spring birds. In any event, even though tomorrow is the first “official” day of spring, there are signs that it is already here.

One of those signs are the pictures Southern California friends are posting of “superblooms” of wild flowers in the desert. When conditions are right, the desert becomes a riot of color and, I guess, this is one of those years. The vistas of bright orange poppies and other flowers are stunning. Even the poor substitute of pictures on my computer screen gladdens my heart and brings back fond memories of my college years in San Diego. Bittersweet memories of old friends and old lovers with whom one has lost touch, sad memories of those one knows have passed on, happy memories of good times and good people.

Memories are a Lenten thing. The season begins with an invitation to remember, “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance,”[1] and a reminder, God “himself knows whereof we are made; he remembers that we are but dust.”[2] Too often we think that the call to remembrance is an admonition to find the worst things about ourselves, that Lent is a time only to purge away those things of which we are ashamed, that Lent is, in fact, like colonoscopy preparation and that we aren’t keeping Lent properly if it isn’t unpleasant. But the reminder isn’t that we are muck and grime to be purged away, but rather that we are dust, we are soil, we are earth. Earth is to be cultivated.

Out of the dusty soil of the desert come those superblooms, those bursts of color and life. That’s truly what Lent is about. This season is not about purging away the shit; it’s about nurturing the seeds of the present with the fertilizer of memory. Bad, yes, but also good; bitter but also sweet; sad but also joyful. If there’s shit to be dealt with, the way to do that is by turning it into something useful, by composting it and using it in a constructive manner, by turning the memories over and spreading them among the seedlings of the present to encourage growth and abundance.

One of the Episcopal Church’s “proper prefaces” for masses in Lent, those introductory prayers chanted by the presiding priest before he or she recites Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, insists that the purpose of Lent is the renewal of God’s people so that we “may come to the fullness of grace which [God has] prepared for those who love [God].”[3] Lent is not about shit and sin and sorrow; it’s about restoration and fullness and abundance. It’s not supposed to be colonoscopy prep; it’s supposed to be getting ready for a superbloom!


(Note: The photograph was taken by Facebook friend Susan Forsburg and posted by her on Facebook, March 10, 2019. It shows the blooming of California poppies in Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore, in Riverside County, California. I am grateful to Susan for posting the photo and all the memories it inspires. Please checkout Susan’s photography page!)

Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.

[1] Ash Wednesday Liturgy, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 265

[2] Psalm 103:14 (BCP Version)

[3] Holy Eucharist II, The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 379

Lenten Journal 2019 (18 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 12

A few months ago I had to take Evelyn to the Emergency Room because of rapid on-set, stress-induced, and disabling inflammatory arthritis; she had awakened about 3 a.m. with severe joint pain a quite literally could not move. We tried to deal with her situation on our own, but it became clear that more was needed. About 4:30 a.m., I called 911 and she was transported to our local community hospital. I dressed as quickly as I could and followed.

I arrived at the ER about 5:30 and waited while a man probably in his late forties checked in an elderly woman. She waited patiently while he dealt with her paperwork. He was much more distraught than she, trying to hurry the process (which only delayed things). Once all was done, he made sure she was comfortable in the waiting room, saying, “Mom, I have to go home and see to the kids. They’ll come get you soon and I’ll be back as quickly as possible.”

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Lenten Journal 2019 (17 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 11 – Second Sunday in Lent

It has been a busy St. Patrick’s Day although Evelyn and I did nothing in the nature of Irish celebration other than pick up some deli corned beef and Swiss cheese for lunch sandwiches and in the evening meet friends for Mexican food. Margaritas are green; they count, right? We went to church where we heard a sermon about God’s faithfulness, stopped at the store to by that corned beef, and came home to do the things married people do on a Sunday afternoon. By which I mean laundry and housekeeping.

Yesterday, I listened to an NPR interview with a musician promoting her art at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival. In the course of the interview, while she was talking about making a political witness through her art, she said, “There are so many things I don’t want to believe….”

It was a phrase that caught my attention. All through today’s activities I have been pondering, “What are the things I don’t want to believe in?”

I don’t want to believe that bigoted, murderous, white nationalists walk into places of worship and kill those gathered there, but apparently they do and they have done so more than once.

I don’t want to believe that the man currently occupying the office of president says and tweets things that inspire bigoted, murderous, white nationalists, but apparently he does and he has done so more than once.

I don’t want to believe that members of the American electorate support that man and the things he says and does, but apparently enough did to get him elected and enough still do that they frighten senators and congressmen into acquiescing in his behavior.

I don’t want to believe these things. But I have to. These are facts. “Do not deceive yourselves,” wrote Paul to the Corinthians in today’s Daily Office epistle.[1] Lent is a time to face facts. I don’t want to believe these things, but there it is; I cannot deceive myself.


Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:18

Lenten Journal 2019 (16 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 10

Is it possible to understand evil?

49 people were killed yesterday in New Zealand. Muslims gathered for Friday Jummah prayers. 49 people peacefully worshiping God were murdered. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.

The news channels and the newspapers since have been filled with commentary trying to make sense of the event. The rhetoric of politicians and public figures of all sorts has been blamed as “contributing” the killer’s action; I read that Chelsea Clinton was confronted by students claiming her comments in opposition to anti-Semitism had done so! The killer claimed to be inspired by the words of the Current Occupant of the White House. On the other hand, counter-commentary (from Fox News, of course) is denying any relationship between obviously inflammatory rhetoric and the shooter’s action.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (15 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 9

I woke up this morning thinking of cleaning toilets. Not in the future sense, the “I have to clean the toilets today” sort of thinking. I did that yesterday. At least I cleaned one toilet yesterday, the one in our master bathroom. Put a gold star on the calendar and mark the day!

It’s probably because I did that yesterday that I woke up this morning thinking about toilets and whether the job I did yesterday would have passed Doris’s standards. Doris was my boss when I was 19 years old and working as a janitor at a small acute care hospital in Southern California. Doris was the hospital’s Executive Housekeeper. She was, I think, the first Muslim with whom I ever had any daily interaction.

Doris was in her 50s when I worked for her, so I’m pretty certain she’s dead now. Actually, this is sad to say, I hope she’s dead. I would rather think of her in Paradise than imagine her facing today’s world of bigotry and the news of Muslims murdered for their faith. Because today I also woke up to the news that 49 Muslims had been shot to death while worshiping in their mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (14 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 8

Today, I shaved.

Now, most of the time, that’s not big deal. Men shave every day so one’s reaction to a 67-year-old man saying “I shaved” probably should be “So what?” However, the past several weeks trimming my beard and shaving have not been a regular part of my life.

As I have recovered from total knee arthroplasty, which is to say the replacement of parts of my left knee with bits and pieces of titanium and plastic, standing at the bathroom sink either long enough or steadily enough to use a sharp and pointy pair of scissors to trim my beard and a razor to shave my neck has simply not been possible. But after two months of recovery including several coached sessions of physical therapy and daily workouts on my own, today was the day to take the time to do both of those things … and not just that, but also to drive to my neighborhood barber and have my head shaved with a straight razor! I’ve not been this “cleaned up” since Christmas!

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Lenten Journal 2019 (13 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 7

There are leaves
Littering my yard
The moldering detritus of fall
Disturbed dancing in an insistent zephyr
Crumbling into dust
Blowing away
In the Wind moving across the surface
The oranges and golds in which
They once were dressed long gone
The beiges of their nude undergarments bared
Their dusty echoes fading
They have lain thus
Blanketed by snow
Overwintering unseen
Under untrustworthy white
As my sorrows and sins
Have slumbered ‘neath
The eagerness of Advent
The joy of Nativity
The surprise of Epiphany
But spring has come
Lent warmed by burnt palms
Melting prior seasons’ deceits
Baring the moldering detritus of life’s mistakes
Blowing it away crumbling
A streak of ash dancing
“You are dust…” it sings
“You are dust…”
“You are dust…”
Its dusty echo fades
“You are dust…”
“You are…”
And a Voice answers
“You are my friends!”

Lenten Leaves, C. Eric Funston, 13 March 2019

Lenten Journal 2019 (12 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 6

“… rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.”[1]

A few days ago, a fellow priest complained about the difficulty of saying these words from the “traditional language” service of Holy Communion in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, especially early in the morning (which is about the only time they are said in most parishes anymore, if they are said at all). I responded with the snarky remark that if my colleague had grown up with them, rather than being a “convert” from another Christian tradition (as he is), they would not be difficult at all.

I did not grow up with them myself, but I did hear them at least three times each week during the academic terms of my high school years. A non-Episcopalian, I was enrolled in an Episcopal Church affiliated boarding school more than a thousand miles from home. Like all the students of that school, I was required to attend chapel which most days followed the liturgy of one of the Daily Offices but twice each week was a celebration of the Eucharist. Then on Sundays, unless one was attending church off campus, there was another mandatory service of Holy Communion.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (11 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 5

“Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’”[1] This is a verse from today’s Daily Office Old Testament reading; it’s supposed to be Moses’ words spoken to the Hebrews about to enter the Promised Land as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, a reminder of the debt of gratitude everyone owes to God, but today it reminds me of a political episode of a few years ago.

President Barack Obama, in a 2012 campaign speech, said, “If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.” The “that” in that sentence was meant to refer to “roads and bridges” he had just referenced in the previous sentence, to the infrastructure which he had just described as the “unbelievable American system” that allows businesses to thrive.[2] That was clear to anyone who heard the speech.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (10 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 4 (First Sunday in Lent)

I fell in love with science when I was in junior high school. I did well in chemistry and biology  and in math classes in high school. I went to a particular university because it was well-known as a training ground for scientists. I wasn’t sure which of the sciences I wanted to go into – marine biology and medicine were both especially attractive, but so too was physics – but I was definitely headed into the sciences. And then I met integral calculus … and ended up getting a degree in literature, then another in business, another in law, and two more in religion.

I am still in love with science; it’s just that I seem incapable of wrapping my head around abstract mathematics. In another universe, I might have been able to do that and might have followed a different path. Perhaps that is why quantum mechanics, superstring theory, and the multiverse fascinate me. I may not quite grasp the math, but the ideas make all sorts of sense to me, especially the notion of multiple universes and alternate realities.

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