HOLY REFLECTIONS FROM A HOLY WEEK
On Good Friday afternoon, seven wise and brave members of All Souls shared how their own stories intertwined with Jesus’ last words. Today and in coming weeks, we will be offering some of those reflections, with gratitude.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34
This is not the reading I would have chosen. Here is Jesus, our Jesus, feeling renounced, abandoned, betrayed. Forsaken, never more human than at this moment, bearing pain that was beyond bearing. He cried out to the God of everything, knowing that he himself had faithfully done all he had been sent here to do, why have YOU forsaken ME? It was an agonized communication, an intimate one. He knew that God was right there.
We watch and listen, as the witnesses did then, and there is nothing we can do. Although we know how it will all turn out, we set that aside right now and focus on his suffering, because we are obligated to be with him, and with each other, even through this. Even through this.
So it’s not the reading I would have chosen. But it is the one that was sent to me, and it has opened an important door, so it’s the right reading. Just not an easy one.
I have a friend who often cavalierly says, “Isn’t it interesting how things usually work out.” For her, it’s true; in a worldly way, she has a blessed life. But of course that isn’t true for many people, probably most, in fact. While we are still here in this life, we witness many tragic things, as those at the foot of the cross did, and we cling to the knowledge that God is right there in the midst of it all. We find our way through those times, as Jesus did, because we know about grace, and blessing, as Jesus did.
In 1979, I was in the home of the one most dear to me and witnessed a vicious attack on her, during which she was shot five times. I could not prevent it or escape it, and I did not expect to survive it. My life, as the saying goes, flashed before my eyes.
“Witness” is a legal and a theological term. Because I was a witness, I was compelled to testify (also a legal and a theological term), to look the shooter in the eye and say yes, this is the one. The victim was targeted because of work she had done trying to help people; I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She had become discouraged and had stopped doing that work, for which they did not forgive her. The shooter was part of a gang, so although he went to prison, I became a target too, because of my testimony. I was advised by the District Attorney to change my place of residence.
A friend of the victim, the single mother of a baby named Aaron, offered to take me in. Her name was Ruth. She needed help and I needed a place to hide. Only when she promised to take Aaron and run, rather than trying to help me if anyone came after me, did I agree to move in with them. In taking that courageous and compassionate step, she gave me the greatest gift I have ever received, that of parenthood. This would not otherwise have happened.
When Ruth died of cancer 15 years later, I became Aaron’s guardian, and we lived together until he went away to college. It was during those difficult years with him that I came back to church, because I could not do what was required of me without a special kind of help. This too would not otherwise have happened, probably, although I know now that God had not stopped looking for me just because I had stopped looking for God. Now Aaron has a child of his own, a baby girl named Sonia, and God is in the midst of all that, too. In a few days I will go to New York to meet her. This would not otherwise have happened.
What are we to conclude from my story, on this most solemn of days? That my cavalier friend is correct, things do “usually work out”? No.
Terrible things happen, by evil, violence, disease, accident, stupidity, natural disasters. We have almost daily reminders of that. Jesus died an agonizing, violent death; the victim in my story survived the attack but suffered terribly and committed suicide a year later; Ruth will never hold her grandchild. We cannot control how “things work out;” the most we may be able to do is to try to have an effect on the painful experience, to offer comfort and support where we can, relying on God to be in the midst of it and to give us strength, and courage.
My close friend Helen has Alzheimer’s disease. During a recent visit, when she was still able to form complete sentences but was clearly very anxious, we were sitting quietly alone. Out of nowhere she said, “I don’t know where I am.” I took one breath and thought, God, help me. The words came to me immediately. “Helen, you’re right here with me. You are safe. Everything is all right.” She relaxed.
Of course everything was not all right and there isn’t much anybody can do about it. But everything was as all right as it could be at that moment, because I received help with what to say. And that was enough.
Blessings happen, and grace. And when they do, we must pass them on. Feeling forsaken as Jesus did, as the victim did that awful night of violence, as we did the day we buried Ruth, as Helen must feel from time to time, is not the final word. God sends help. Sometimes we are the help being sent. Other times we receive it. In my own darkest hours, I received many offers of help, some from people I did not even know.
The suffering of Jesus on the cross is quite beyond our comprehension, but we try. We remember it and honor it. Somewhere, in the layers of our grief, there is strength and courage. And something else. It is what kept those witnesses at the foot of the cross. It is what keeps us trying to help those in this life with us now, who feel betrayed and forsaken.
When Aaron was visiting here last summer, he and my partner Bonnie were alone for a minute. She said to him, referring to me, “She loves you more than anyone else on the planet.” And he answered, “I know.”
Out of the darkest nightmares comes what matters most, what mattered most to Jesus even in his forsakenness.
The near presence of God. In other words, love.
– Priscilla Camp
In thanksgiving for the life of Michael Horne
It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Michael Horne died on April 11th. Please keep Diane Haavik, his wife, Erin Horne, his daughter, and the rest of his family and friends in your prayers. A memorial service in thanksgiving for his life will be held on April 30th at 11:00 am at the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Chapel, 2770 Marin Avenue, with a reception to follow. All are welcome.
From the Associate for Ministry Development
Reflections on the Easter Vigil
Confession: Before this year, I had not been to an Easter service in about five years. Through all kinds of life situations, namely my Evangelical background, I hadn’t given much thought to Easter. Sure, it was about Jesus but mostly it was a day for those who don’t usually go to church to attend, not a day for me to attend. Holy week here at All Souls, however, caused me to reconsider a lot of what I had thought about Easter in the past. I witnessed a celebration of the humanity of Jesus, the Luke version of the story, rather than just the resurrected Christ. I witnessed mourning, and the whole story, so that it was not just about Sunday, but about all that came before.
And the whole thing was disruptive. It disrupts our schedules and our lives. It was a whole week! It was exhausting and consuming, because the event of Jesus is. Even if we experience nothing from the liturgy, and if we never emotionally or spiritually are able to experience moments of understanding or illumination during Holy Week, at least we are exhausted. We are tired by the experience of being together, of being present, of being human.
But then there was the vigil – the excitement of keeping vigil together, and of ringing bells, and kissing icons, and fire – all of this corporeality is awakening and energizing. I think it is the exhaustion of mourning that lead to the energy Madeline Feeley and I felt holding that icon as you all walked in from the procession. We felt the wind come with you, the wind of the doors being opened, and the wind of you all in motion headed our way. We heard you, as we gripped the icon in fright when Phil pounded on the doors, and then as you rang the bells announcing Christ’s resurrection and our entrance into Easter. Then we felt you, as your bodies grazed past ours as we huddled together behind that heavy icon.
It was exciting to say the least, but I think really it tells me that this place is alive with the Spirit of a present God.
– Emily Hansen Curran
Symposium: Going Through Hell
An interdisciplinary symposium on concepts of the afterlife and the works of Dante Alighieri and Hieronymous Bosch
When: April 19 & 20
Where: St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley.
The Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Berkeley with cooperation from the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion invites you to a two-day event. The symposium begins with afternoon tea at 4:30 pm on April 19th. An introductory talk and a presentation on William Blake’s illustrations of Dante follow. The evening concludes with a chanted compline service including songs used by Dante in the Purgatorio and projected images from Bosch. Wednesday continues with more presentations from 9:00 am.
Talks include: Dr. Morton Paley (Berkeley) – Blake’s illustrations of Dante, Dr. Bill Mahrt (Stanford) Silence in the Paradiso, Dr. Inez Hollander Lake (formerly of Berkeley) – Henry Miller and the Oranges of Bosch, Dr. Henrike Lange (Berkeley) – Visibility and Invisibility of God in Dante and Bosch, Travis Stevens (Harvard) – Hell as Love’s Highest Name: Hadeqijch on Suffering in Heaven. More papers are in process and will be announced. The check out calepiscopal.org for more information as well.
FAMILY GATHERING AND POTLUCK
April 23rd, 4:30 pm, at the Koops-Elsons’ house
Parents, kids and youth, come enjoy each other’s company! We’ll have the grill fired up if you want to to throw something on, or bring other food or bevs to share. The goal is fun, not fancy. Bring your kids and youth (they’ll be excited about the massive rope swing and tree house!) and have a relaxed evening connecting with All Soulsian parents. If you have parent friends who are interested in All Souls but wary of going to church, invite them! Please email Liz or Jeannie to RSVP and to get directions, and/or add what you plan to bring to this google doc.
LAST CALL FOR HIGH SCHOOL IMMERSION TRIP!!!
High schoolers: this Sunday, April 17 is the LAST CHANCE to sign up for our awesome immersion trip! We will be going to Okanogan National Forest in Washington to work with those in the Diocese of Olympia and Spokane and to reconstruct parts of the national forest damaged by fire. Join your fellow high schoolers from All Souls and folks from Christ Church Alameda, Church of the Resurrection Pleasant Hill, St. Paul’s Walnut Creek, St. Stephen’s Orinda, and St. Timothy’s Danville on this adventure of a trip. This is the registration link. There is also a mandatory meeting THIS SUNDAY from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm at St. Stephen’s Orinda for youth and parents. If the link doesn’t work, or if you have more questions, contact Jess Powell.
Join us for Immigrant Day in the Capitol!
Monday May 23rd 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, West Steps (10th Street) State Capitol
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of Immigrant Day! Since 1996, the California immigrant rights movement has convened annually at the state capitol for a day of advocacy, education and unity, demanding better rights and treatment for immigrant communities. Join us this year for Immigrant Day 2016, as hundreds of immigrants and advocates from across California raise a unified voice in Sacramento in support of state proposals that advance immigrant integration and prosperity for all Californians.
Join our faith delegation! We will sign up and go to Sacramento State Capitol as a group to lobby for at least 3 important bills being highlighted this year: Extension of the Domestic Worker’s Bill, Health 4 All, and a bill to end the the use of private prisons for immigrants in California. There will be training opportunities of the bills before we go. More information to come!
Click here to be part of our faith delegation to the State’s Capitol! Registration deadline is April 20th.
EQUIPPING THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
Saturday, May 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at St. Paul’s, 415 El Camino Real, Burlingame
St. Paul’s, Burlingame will be your host for the learning-rich Equipping the Beloved Community training event. Our own Caroline McCall of The Center for Church Vitalitywill be teaching leadership capacity-building and meeting skills for clergy and laity alike. Bishop Marc Andrus will be introducing his new book (written with Matthew Fox) entitled Stations of the Cosmic Christ. Other workshops include Eucharistic Ministry and Visiting, stewardship with TENS Executive Director Laurel Johnston, small group ministry, faith development at home (for parents and family ministers), mandated reporter training, and much more. The cost is $25.00 and members of the congregation will need to register. All the information about this event, including workshop descriptions, can be accessed here.
ADULT FORMATION CLASSES
Dying, Belief and Practice
Coming next in this series:
April 17: Leaving a Legacy: Building the Church through Future Gifts. A brief introduction to the variety of ways individuals can leave a legacy to their congregation through planned giving. Utilizing current assets such as real estate, appreciate stock, or retirement assets can provide a unique way to create a personal lifetime income stream or provide trust security to heirs while preserving a gift for your congregation in the future. (led by Amanda Kiernan Martin, Planned Giving Officer, Diocese of California)
April 24: Legal Issues around Aging. Have you created an Advance Health Care Directive to appoint a health care agent to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able? It’s easy and its important. What is a POLST and who should have one? Are you curious about California’s new Right to Die Act? Join Bonnie K. Bishop, a local attorney and parishioner at All Souls, to hear about this and more. Please bring questions!
Stories of All Souls
A class especially designed for folks new to All Souls to learn more about the community and how we make church together, led by the Revs. Phil Brochard and Liz Tichenor.
Lectionary Bible Study: Bible Workbench
A lectionary-based Bible study practice designed for small groups, the material invites us to explore scripture in a broader context; learning to see how the texts relate to what is going on in the world, and to our own lives.