Archives for October 2010
When the leaves are just beginning to change, I always remember Tom.
Tom was a long-legged English boy-man of 18 when he died. He and his brother Laurie were the sons of family friends of ours, Frances and Peter. The parents were both artists, but Tomâ€™s gifts lay in design and engineering. He was extremely intelligent and had a full scholarship to an excellent secondary school.
I had known about Tom for years, but had not met him until the summer my daughter and I went to England together for the first time. We stayed with the family for two or three days. Jess was perhaps a year older than Tom and two years older than Laurie, but they became instant friends–in five minutes it was as if they had known one another all their lives. Tom had a more rugged face than Laurie, who was actually beautifulâ€”like his mother, Frances. Tom was appealing looking, rather than strictly handsome, with a mop of dark curls and an expressive, open face. He, Jess, and Laurie spent every possible moment of their time together, and two summers later when Jess came to England for a month, she stayed with them all for several more days. In between, she and Tom wrote back and forth. I think both Tomâ€™s parents and I rather hoped something might come of their friendship, but we will never know what might have been.
When Tom as 14 he had been diagnosed with Hodgkinâ€™s disease. It was in a fairly late stage when it was caught, but the doctors battled it into remission, and since Hodgkin’s is one of the â€œgoodâ€ cancers even his parents had stopped thinking about Tomâ€™s illness when, at age 18, on a post secondary-school graduation trip to Turkey, Tom was rushed to a hospital so ill that he nearly died before they could get him home. It was leukemia–a consequence of the Hodgkinâ€™s treatment, which happens in about 8% of survivors. Because it was a secondary cancer the leukemia was essentially untreatable. The only hopeâ€”a frail oneâ€”was that his brother might have been able to donate his bone marrow. But Laurie was not a good enough match.
All that summer Tom lay dying. The leukemia attacked his nervous system, so he was partially paralyzed and unable to walk or even to move very much. He could not leave the hospital to go home.
His chaplain from school visited him a lotâ€”like many English people, they were not a religious family but he and Tom grew very close. Tom did not utter a word of complaint to his family, and he was just as strong with his chaplain, who came to admire him tremendously. Jess wrote to Tom every dayâ€”at least a post cardâ€”and he kept every one and read and reread them. We all hoped that that there would be a miracleâ€”but his time ran out. The day before he died, a prize offered by the Duke of Edinburgh for a â€œgreen-powered” miniature car he had designed was to have been presented to Tom by the Duke himself. Laurie went in his place, and brought the medal to him. Tom smiled but he was so weak he could barely lift his head to look at it. But when his mother began to cry he said, â€œDonâ€™t cry. Itâ€™s all right. Itâ€˜s no worse than a case of flu.â€
The next day he developed what would be a slight cold for the rest of us, but with his compromised immune system it spread like wildfire. By nightfall he was unconscious. By midnight he was dead. His parents told me that the only way they were able to get through the agony of losing him was by following the example he had set them in how he bore his illness.
His chaplain preached at his service and insisted on putting into the bulletin the words from Pilgrimâ€™s Progress that apply to Mr. Valiant-For-Truth:
Then said he, I am going to my Fathers, and tho’ with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the Trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and Skill to him that can get it. My Marks and Scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me…
Tom died, far too young, in late August. The day I heard he had died, I was walking by a river and I saw, with a shock of surprise, the first red leaf of fall spinning on the water. I had not known leaves fell so early.
But sometimes they do.
Earlier this week I was at a meeting with other clergy and the facilitator asked us if we had a favourite gospel. I had never thought about the question in quite that way before, but I realized that I did, and that itâ€™s Luke.Â
Like a kaleidoscope, each of the gospels shifts the same elements to give us a different impression of Jesus and his mission and ministry, but no other gospel is as good at reminding the reader of Jesusâ€™ special concern for the poor, women, children, lepers, beggars, Samaritans. Much of what we call Lukeâ€™s special material is concerned with stories of Jesus and the marginalized and outcast.
This story of the healing of the ten lepers is an example of Lukeâ€™s special material–this story simply would not be known to us if Luke had not included it. And in this case it involves two kinds of marginal figures–lepers and Samaritans. Or, more specifically, a leprous Samaritan.
When we think of leprosy, which we probably rarely do, we think of modern leprosy, which doctors call Hansenâ€™s disease. A white patch appears on the skin and spreads until the suffererâ€™s fingers, noses and toes drop off.Â But this not what the ancients knew as leprosy. Hansenâ€™s disease appears to have been unknown in the ancient world. Skeletons of ancient Israelites show no evidence of the grotesque twisting of the bones that go with modern leprosy until well after New Testament times. And there are no descriptions in the Bible of the rotting limbs and deformed faces that are characteristic of Hansenâ€™s disease. In the ancient world, leprosy was any kind of skin disease that did not begin to heal in a week or two. It might be something highly contagious, like ringworm, but it could also be psoriasis or eczema.Â Even vitiligo, in which a dark skinned person develops white patches, would have been considered leprosy until the white patches covered the entire body, at which point the person would once again be seen as clean.
While you were leprous, you could not live with family or friends, and had no part in the life of the community. You had to live on the margins of the human world, permitted only the company of others like yourself–and alone if needs be. And you had to call out â€œUnclean, unclean!â€ to warn others to keep their distance.
For leprosy marked its victims as both spiritually and physically unclean. Under Jewish law, only if you could present yourself to a priest with unblemished skin could you be restored to family and friends, and to a right relationship with God.
No wonder, then, that the ten lepers pleaded with Jesus to be healed!
Notice that Luke does not tell us exactly what happened. Jesus does not touch the lepers, and seemingly they were not instantly cured.Â Instead, they appear to have been told to go to the priests to present themselves as clean and although nothing seemed to have changed, they trusted enough to go obediently off to do so. And as they trotted off, they found that they had indeed been made clean.
We can well imagine the gladness that gave wings to their feet as they hurried off. At last they could return to normal lives, to their families, to worship in the Temple.
But one, a Samaritan, turned back to give thanks, as extravagantly as possible. He shouted praises to God, threw himself at Jesusâ€™ feet and to thanked him with his whole heart.
Jesus looks at him and then asks, very dryly â€œThe other nine–where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?â€
And then Jesus says something a little surprising: â€œGet up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.â€
â€œYour faith has made you wellâ€¦â€ But wait–isnâ€™t the Samaritan already well?
Well, yes. He was cured of leprosy. But the word Jesus uses here can be translated in one of two ways: as â€œwellâ€ or as â€œsaved.â€
This is a cure beyond the physical healing, even beyond restoration to family, friends and community. This is a restoration to a right relationship with God by one who was seen as, to all purposes, outside that possibility. For the other 9 lepers were, apparently, Jews. This last is a Samaritanâ€”who is, for a good Jew, at best, a heretic and at worse a follower of a false religion. You could not go much lower on the social scale in Jesusâ€™ world than to be a Samaritan with leprosy.
And even if he is no longer a leper, as a Samaritan, he is still the despised one who lives on the margins.
And yet he is not only healed, but saved.
Simply because he came back to give thanks.
But note thatÂ this is not about sending a polite thank you note. This is about being passionately grateful to God. Clearly it is the offering of thanksgiving with a heart fully and joyfully open towards God that allows God to work in and through us, and to heal and strengthen and preserve us. To, in short, save us.
All ten lepers had been afflicted with a condition, that, in their time and place, made them outcasts because they were seen as spiritually and physically unclean. Nine of them settled for going back to their old life and old ways, physically healed. The tenth was healed both physically and spirituallyâ€”his inner and his outer life were made one. He became whole.
Luke wants us to understand that salvation is not a matter of who we are, or how the world sees and judges us. He was always very concerned that those who might feel despised or forgotten or of no worth understand that they are of infinite worth to God. And he wants each of us, as well, to recognize all the good things, large and small, Â that come into our lives through the hand of God.
We are invited to offer in response what we call in the Eucharist the â€œsacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.â€ And thereby to become whole and joy-filled persons.
Year C, Proper 24, 2010
A few weeks ago we heard the rather disturbing parable of the dishonest manager, in which we had to ask what Jesus meant when he said to make friends by means of dishonest wealth. Was Jesus telling us to cheat or to steal? How were we to understand that parable in light of what we know about Jesus?
Today we hear another of Jesusâ€™ more confounding parables, in which Jesus seems to compare God to a corrupt and uncaring judge. As in the first parable, we have to struggle to find the Jesus we know in the midst of our surprise or even consternation at what he seems to be saying.Â
It seems clear that Jesus was seeking to shock his audience in telling these parables–he knew their effect, then and now. He is trying to startle his hearers, to force them out of what we might call their comfort zone in their thinking–and into a new and richer way of seeing God in relation to their prayer.
One of my favourite movies is the Anthony Hopkins/Debra Winger version of Shadowlands.Â Anthony Hopkins plays C. S. Lewis of Narnia fame–Jack to his friends. Lewis was an Oxford professor who lived from 1898-1963. Lewis spoke up for Christian faith in an intellectual environment that was indifferent and even hostile to religion. In fact Lewis was perhaps the greatest modern Christian apologist. In his books for adults, and in his BBC radio broadcasts, speaking tours and his Narnia books he defended and explained Christianity so that people of all ages could grasp its message.
Lewis was a quietly repressed man in many ways, and did not marry until late in his life. Oddly, he first married Joy Gresham, the American woman he loved, out of friendship, in a civil ceremony that would allow her to remain in England with her children. He did not regard it as a real marriage because a true marriage was before God, and this had only been in a registry office. They never consummated this marriage and told no one but Jackâ€™s brother, Warnie.
Lewis had a reputation as the man with the answers to lifeâ€™s tough questions. One of his books was called The Problem of Pain in which he wrote that â€œPain is Godâ€™s megaphone to rouse a deaf worldâ€–meaning by that that pain serves to get our attention fully focused on God. Lewis wrote: “While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.â€ But this is a kind of abstract and bloodless way of talking about human suffering. After Joy was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer Lewis suddenly and painfully realized that he had fallen deeply in love with her. For weeks she hovered in agony between death and life and he was terrified that she would die before he could show her what she had come to mean to him. More than anything, he wanted to marry her, really marry her, before God and the world. And he knew that her death would cast him into an abyss of loneliness, for she was his soul mate, the love he had waited to find until he was nearly 60 years old.
Daily he rushes to the hospital, sitting at her bedside, watching the rictus of pain as it distorts her face, watching the doctor shake his head as he looks at the X-rays of Joyâ€™s diseased thigh bone, which had snapped, as Lewis says, â€œLike a frozen twig.â€ The only treatment known in the late 1950â€™s was radiation–and the cancer was so terribly advanced that hope was very frail for even a brief remission.
The Jack Lewis who was once able to write coolly and dispassionately that suffering is character-building, saying, â€œ…[W]hether we like it or not, God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want, â€ finally knew what real suffering and real pain looked like. And he spent hours on his knees in the college chapel. There is a marvelous scene in the movie in which Anthony Hopkins comes out of the chapel, his face vulnerable, his eyes haunted. His old friend Harry, the college chaplain seeks to find some word of comfort, though he is almost comically uncomfortable in talking about feelings, or even faith, in this deeply intellectual all-male environment in which both cause deep embarrassment.
Harry says to the clearly-suffering Jack:Â â€œ[Others] can scoff, Jack, but I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.â€
And Lewis replies, with the honesty of desperation: â€œThat’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.â€
And this is the nub of what Jesus is saying in this parable of the unjust judge. Â We may pray, as Jack Lewis did, with great sincerity for many years. But prayer can become rote, a form, almost a habit–or even disappear from our lives completely except as we follow along with the prayers on Sunday morning. Lewis did not even realize until he was praying with passionate intensity, day and night, praying against all reason for a miracle, just what prayer was and could be–how far into the arms of God prayer could push him.
And Jack got his miracle–for a time. For a year in the movie–and three years in real life–Joy Gresham experienced a remission that allowed them to consummate their love, to travel, to parent her two sons, to be loving companions. Jack suffered dreadfully after she died–he had to learn to pray his way through that as well–but the experience of praying through her first illness helped him finally to find his way back to God after her death.
Jesus wants us to realize that in this world, trouble will come–heartache and heartbreak, loss of all kinds, griefs and anxieties of all kinds. We must learn to weather them all, as best we can, and the way to prepare is to learn to rely on God. If the uncaring judge in the parable finally gives heed to the widow because she has pestered him to death, how much more will God, who isÂ Loving-Kindness Itself, listen to our cries? We should never doubt Godâ€™s power, or Godâ€™s goodness, or Godâ€™s willingness to carry us through all the trials and tribulations we may–will!–face in this world. But we can only seize this knowledge with assurance when we have learned to pray our way to this kind of radical trust.
And this is why it is so important to learn to pray with a whole heart. Indeed, the important question for Jesus is not whether we can trust God to hear our prayers, but this: â€œWhen the Son of of man comes, will there be faith on earth?â€Â In short–God will always hear our prayers, but will we continue to be prayerful? And that is why what Jack Lewis said is such a powerful measure of our own prayer life: â€œI pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesnâ€™t change God. It changes me.â€
Let our prayer be to find our way to that place where we are so open to God that prayer flows out of us, and we may be changed, and changed, and changed again, until we are, at last, what God hadÂ hoped we wouldÂ become all along.
David Clark Little will perform works by Palestrina, Byrd, ClÃ©rambault, Vierne, J. Pachelbel, R.V. Williams, D.C. Little, J.S. Bach on Sunday, October 17, 2010, 3:00 PM at Christ Church (Episcopal), 104 Nevin Street, Ridley Park, PA.
Mr. Little is the organist and Choir Director at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Doylestown. He is a composer and harpsichordist who has studied at music conservatories in the Netherlands. He also teaches at the Settlement School in Philadelphia.
A native of Scranton, he has performed as a soloist and part of ensembles in the United States, Europe and Asia.
Mr. Little produces his own CD’s on the Adnarim label in a private recording studio.
This concert is sponsored by the Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Guild of organists. There will be a free-will offering.
Of Arlington, VA. Dana was born in Ridley Park, PA, grew up in Christ Church, and attended Lakeview Elementary School, and Ridley Junior and Senior High Schools. She was an exemplary student, being promoted from 4th to 6th grade and winning numerous awards. She graduated from the University of Delaware with a B.A. in Economics in 1982 and from Syracuse University with a Ph.D. in Public Finance in 1990.
Dana was an economist and sector manager for the Economic Policy and Debt Department of the World Bank. In addition to her recent focus on economic and debt issues, she worked on fiscal and governance issues in East Asia, Latin America and the Europe and Central Asia regions. Prior to joining the World Bank, she worked for Barents Group, a subsidiary of KPMG. In her career, she received more than 15 honors and awards for her outstanding work in economics and public finance.
Dana enjoyed gourmet cooking, baking, entertaining family and friends with lavish meals, reading, going to the beach, yoga, and spending time with her family. She traveled extensively around the world and had many close friends from many countries. Daughter of the late Robert W., Jr. and Carole Davis Weist. She is survived by sister, Kara Warholic, brother-in-law, Mark Warholic; brother, Mark Weist, sister-in-law, Amber Weist; nieces Abby, Hannah, Kylee, and Shannon; and nephews Jackson, Nathan, and Tyler.
Burial Rite and Eucharist 1 PM Sunday, October 17, 2010 at Christ Church Episcopal, 104 Nevin Street, Ridley Park, PA 19078. Burial will be in the adjoining church memorial garden. Visitation 7 to 9 PM Saturday at the White-Luttrell Funeral Home, 311 N. Swarthmore Avenue, Ridley Park, PA 19078.
Dana was the most generous and caring person to her friends and family and a blessing to all. Her battle against cancer was inspirational. Danaâ€™s wishes were to establish a fund at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC to support wellness among people contending with cancer. In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made to the Weist Fund for Oncology Wellness Programming at: Sibley Memorial Hospital Foundation, 5255 Loughboro Road, NW, Washington, DC 20016 (phone, 202-537-4257).
Come join us for a haunted hayride at Arasapha Farm on Oct. 24! The whole family is invited! We will gather at Arasapha Farm at 5:45 and go as a group. (May not be suitable for children younger than 8.)Â The cost per person will be $5.
1835 N. Middletown Road
Glen Mills, PA 19342
See a video of the haunted hayride:
Many hands make light work! What a great day it was on Wednesday as more than 60 volunteers showed up from all over Ridley Park. Thanks to all of our parishioners, as well as members from St. Madelines and members of the Interboro wresting team. We were finished in short order. Many came upstairs to enjoy hot dogs served in Musselman Hall.