Go Smell It

Homily for Sunday, April 7, 2019
Lent 5C
John 12:1–8

perfume bottlesIn their classic of the family therapy repertoire, The Family Crucible, co-therapists and co-authors Gus Napier and Carl Whitaker tell of how Carolyn, the wife in a couple with whom they’ve been meeting, has been making substantial progress—she’s more her own person, she’s more emotionally expressive, she’s more… alive!  But David, the husband, in a dynamic that is not unusual when one of a couple experiences growth, is resistant and—perhaps subconsciously, as part of his resistance to this new person and this new dynamic in the marriage—found a job offer in another city.  Napier writes: Continue reading


Open Spaces

Homily for Sunday, March 31, 2019
Lent 4C
Luke 15:1–3,11b–32

When I strike the open plains something happens.  I’m home; I breathe differently.  I tried for years… to get over it.  But I stopped trying…  It’s incurable…  That love of great spaces, of rolling open country like the sea, is the grand passion of my life.

—Willa Cather

liberacion_de_san_pedro_murillo_1667Luke is nothing if not dramatic.  Luke’s Gospel and his sequel, Acts, are filled with big gestures, bold speeches, heroic journeys and wide-open spaces.

  • Big gestures: To the angel’s announcement in Luke chapter 1, Mary gives an immediate “Yes! Be it unto me according to your word.”
  • Bold speeches: In Acts chapter 7, Stephen gives one of the most audacious (and the second longest) speech in the New Testament (the second longest after the Sermon on the Mount): “Brothers and fathers, listen to me,” Stephen says, “You are the ones that received the law… yet you have not kept it.”
  • Heroic journeys: “When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria… the sailors… took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they… found fifteen fathoms… Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down… the anchors…and prayed for day to come” (Acts 27).
  • Wide open spaces: Notice how many roads are in Luke—the Jericho road ridden by the Good Samaritan; the Emmaus road on which the risen Jesus appeared to disciples (Luke 24); the “wilderness road” near which Philip baptized the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8); the Damascus road on which Jesus appeared to Saul (Acts 9).

Continue reading


Homily for Sunday, March 24, 2019
Lent 3C
Exodus 3:1–15

“And [Moses] said, ‘Here I am.’” — Exodus 3:4c 

evelynglennieWhat sets the astonishing Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie apart is two things, only one of which can be seen: The first, the thing that can be seen, is that Glennie performs barefoot.  Though all on stage, including Glennie, are in concert black, she goes barefoot.  Glennie performs barefoot not to make a statement or to make herself more comfortable (or her audience uncomfortable), but because—and this is the second thing that sets her apart, the thing that can’t be seen—she is entirely deaf, and the way she listens is, in her words, “through my hands, through my arms, through my cheekbones and my scalp, through my tummy, my chest, my legs,” and perhaps most importantly through her feet.  By the vibrations she feels through the floor, she knows which note she’s playing and how loudly; she knows—she feels—the notes, the phrases, the music that those around her are playing.  She can even without looking feel the audience clap, and know if they are clapping loudly like thunder or softly like rain or hardly at all, like snow.  In a TED talk from February of 2003, Glennie said: Continue reading

Entering the Story

Homily for Sunday, March 17, 2019
Lent 2C
Genesis 15:1–12, 16–17

“[The Lord] said to [Abram], ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’  [Abram] brought [the Lord] all these…” — Gen 15:9–10a


They carried

1280px-soldiers_at_pointe_du_hoccan openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes… lighters, matches, sewing kits [and] two or three canteens of water…

They carried chess sets, basketballs [and] Vietnamese-English dictionaries…

They carried… safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire… fingernail clippers… bush hats, bolos, and much more.

Some of that “much more” included things like

The shared weight of memory.  They took up what others could no longer bear.  Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak… They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil… They carried the sky.  The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons… all of it, they carried gravity.

Continue reading

An Invitation

Homily for March 6, 2019
Ash Wednesday
Preached at St. John’s Church, Newtonville

“Yet even now, return to me with all your heart.” — Joel 2:12

mary_wollstonecraft_by_john_opie_28c._179729Had he not been Mary Wollstonecraft’s second partner, and had he not been the father of her first child, and had he not taken a job in the timber industry in Scandinavia away from their shared home in Paris, we probably never would have heard of Gilbert Imlay.  Though their long-distance relationship did not last, Wollstonecraft’s letters to him did.  There exist over 70 of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Imlay, from June, 1793 until December, 1795.  To read them is to witness a heart—a capacious and expressive heart—move gradually from the flowering spring of early love, to an autumn of disappointment, to a winter of heartbreak. Continue reading

On Luke the Evangelist

Homily for Sunday, February 24, 2019
Epiphany 7C
Luke 6:27–38

Åâàíãåëèñò ËóêàIf Jacob could have favorites among his sons, so can I have favorites among the books of the New Testament.  And I do have favorites, but unlike Jacob my favorites change over time.  For example, after seminary courses on the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans, I came to love the Gospel of Matthew and Paul’s letter to the Romans.  (Yes, I admit, I loved Paul’s letter to the Romans!)  When I was a brother in the Society of St. John the Evangelist, I came to love the Gospel of John.  When we lived in California, that melting-pot of spirituality, I came to love the letter to the Ephesians, as Ephesus was similarly a melting pot of spirituality.  And just last year the Gospel of Mark became my latest crush.  After years of having been my least favorite Gospel—“Come on, give us an infancy narrative;” or “Why did you write so sparsely? (Were you in a hurry?)” or, “Why did you use the word ‘immediately’ so often?”—I finally fell for Mark and his rather “Gothic” tone, his “telling it like it is.” Continue reading