Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010

“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…

Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave El Salvador. I almost could, except for the children, the poor, bruised victims of this insanity. Who would care for them? Whose heart could be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and loneliness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine." (Jean Donovan)

I read this again today, the 30th anniversary of Jean's martyrdom, along with Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke. My own trip to El Salvador with Catholic Relief Services in 2007 came back in a flash. I remembered sitting in a community center in Aguilares, listening to folks tell their horrific stories of torture, violence and imprisonment. As we listened, I became aware of a police van driving up and down the street, slowing down as it passed the doorway. It occurred to me that there could be a drive by shooting any moment and we could all die. I was terrified and calm at the same time.

We continued to listen to the stories----and it meant so much to the tellers that we, Americans, were there to listen. And we believed them!

That police van kept driving we listened to stories of people being 'disappeared' and worse. I remembered the women who were murdered on Dec. 2, 1980. I remembered the words that Jean Donovan wrote in the weeks before her murder and it was as though I could feel her presence in the room telling me that, no matter what happened, things would be ok. I understood in that moment why she couldn't leave---because I knew in that moment that if I had been her, I couldn't have left, either.

We left Aguilares later that day, but I will never forget the people we met, their stories, and their courage.

Today I remember Jean Donovan and her companions, martyred in El Salvador thirty years ago. I pray to have even a small amount of her courage and faith.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


There's something about mid-life that makes me more grateful than ever for my life, my family, my friends. The younger version of me took so much for granted--the later mid-life version of me knows that nothing should ever be taken for granted. There's something about travel, in particular travel to places where people struggle with poverty, with war, with fear, that makes me ever more aware of what I have and what I don't have.

One of the things that the folks I have encountered in places that can only be described as sad or desperate have is a sense of dependence on God. Their celebrations of faith and of the Liturgy are more vibrant than anything I have ever experienced anywhere else. They know something about God that I don't. How is it that they are more sure of their faith than I am, than we are? I might think that they have less to be thankful for than I do--or anyone else in America, for that matter. But the reality is that when it comes to spiritual matters----they know something about God that I don't know.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for all the gifts in my life----and not the stuff. I am grateful for this past year, and most especially for an amazing 9 day retreat in the Holy Land. The retreat continues to unfold and bring gifts that I didn't expect.

I am so grateful.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Standing by the side of the road.....

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cycle C
September 26, 2010

Last year, I had a friend visiting from out of town -- we were out sightseeing when we drove by a very pregnant woman, with 2 or 3 small children, holding a sign that said “Homeless, anything helps.” I couldn’t stop because the light was green, so I told my friend that we had to go around the block because I couldn’t just drive by and without giving her some money---my friend was already digging in her purse, so apparently she couldn’t drive by either. As we came around to the woman, the light turned red. My friend told me that she had to get out to talk to the woman and pray with her---so she jumped out of the car and went over to her. I prayed that the light would stay red for a long, long time…..thankfully, it did, and soon enough my friend jumped back in the car and we were off again. It turned out that the woman with kids was on the run from an abusive husband and was trying to figure out what to do next. I never saw her again, but still think about her and pray for her.

One Sunday afternoon, several years ago, I was teaching a Confirmation group session on the principles of Catholic Social Teaching---we were working on the one called the “preferential option for the poor.’ In talking about who is poor in our community, the subject of ‘those people with cardboard signs who stand by the side of the road’ came up. I shared with the group that when I feel that it’s safe to do so---in terms of traffic safety, and my personal safety---I try and give that person some money, if I have it. One of the participants, who thought that this was absolutely the dumbest thing he had ever heard, immediately commented that ‘those people’ were all scammers and should be ignored. I asked them to stop and imagine that their lives had just been turned upside down---that everyone who was employed at their home had just lost their job and they were about to be evicted, with no one to turn to. What would they do and where would they go? One thing became obvious----they had a lot of incorrect assumptions about social services. I kept asking “what would you do?” One suggested that they could win the lotto. I skipped telling them the probability stats and went right to ‘remember, you have to BUY lotto tickets, and you don’t have any money.” When they couldn’t come up with any realistic solutions to their brand new poverty dilemma----the participant who had made the ‘scammer’ comment looked at me, raised his hand, and very quietly and seriously said “I would make a sign and stand by the side of the road.” No one in the room said a word.

Here’s the way that my thinking goes on this issue: if the person with the sign is a scammer, it’s on his or her conscience---if they are in need and I don’t help, it’s on mine. I don’t want that on my conscience.

In the interest of full disclosure, another time, I was driving, and saw a guy with a sign. I drove closer and saw that the sign said “Need a hug.” I’m sure he did. But he looked a little sketchy, so, in the interest of personal safety, I smiled and waved and kept on driving.

I just know that when, God willing, I get to heaven, that pregnant woman with the small children will greet me at the gate, and I will hear the voice of Jesus say, “Hey, it’s ME! Pretty good disguise, no? And that guy with the “need a hug” sign? That was me, too. “

Everything that we have is a gift from God, and being a good steward requires us to use and share wisely. We all know this story, and we know that it doesn’t end well for the rich man---but not because he was rich. It doesn’t end well, because he was oblivious to the poor man who was right by his door. In the Confiteor, we pray: "I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do." There’s the sin. It’s the “what I have failed to do” part. The rich man didn’t attack or abuse Lazarus----he didn’t do anything at all to Lazarus. He did nothing. He had the money, the power, the ability to help someone who desperately needed it. He did nothing. It’s called a sin of ‘omission.’

My German grandmother taught me a word when I was little----"schadenfreude." It doesn’t translate into English, but it basically means taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. I must admit to a bit of "schadenfreude" when I read the part where the rich man, who was clearly used to giving the orders, had already arrived in hell, where he finally bothered to notice Lazarus, and continued to give orders. “Father, send Lazarus to give me water, to tell my brothers to shape up so they won’t end up like me, blah, blah, blah.” Are you kidding me? He never noticed Lazarus in life, and now that their lives had done a complete flip-flop, he wanted to treat him like a slave? Not that I’ve ever been to hell, but I’m reasonably sure that it doesn’t operate that way. The people in hell don’t get to call the shots, and they don’t get to have the people they wronged in this life as a personal assistant in the next. This is a very troubling parable, with drastic consequences---if you willfully ignore the poor, it seems that you end up in hell.

The Gospel reading last week encouraged us to be good stewards of our possessions and money, and cautioned us against making money into a god. Today’s Gospel goes further and tells us that we must, as good stewards, share what we have with those who are poor. But first we have to be aware that there are people in need.

Lazarus walks among us every day—do we see him? For the last month, he has been across the street staying at St Margaret’s Church with Congregations for the Homeless---and for 10 days, over 100 volunteers from this faith community fed and cared for him. He lives at St Martin de Porres Shelter. He stands by the side of the road with a sign that says “Homeless Vet. Anything helps.” He needs something to eat, and he needs a hug.

Today’s Gospel invites us to remember that we really are called to take care of each other---and it starts by noticing that there is someone there, someone in need, someone who is Lazarus walking among us, someone who is Jesus in disguise.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Pilgrims Who Traveled...

This is a photo of all of us (well, almost all of us), taken in the chapel at Bethlehem University. The art in the Church remembers martyrs----specifically children who were martyred, beginning with the Holy Innocents, pictured on the walls behind us surrounding the main altar. The photo also includes the two students from Bethlehem U (second and third from the left, in the second row--clearly younger than the rest of us!) who met with us earlier in the day.

The women who made this retreat journey come from all over the United States, from different religious traditions----yet we all were seeking to somehow encounter and touch the holy. On the first day of our retreat, Sr Marianne (one of our amazing leaders!) told us that the difference between a tourist and a pilgrim is this: Tourists pass through the land, while pilgrims allow the land to pass through them.

As I reflected on this through our retreat, I kept returning to the sense of 'intention.' What did I intend to do, see, accomplish? I didn't go to see buildings. I didn't go to see 'stuff.' I didn't have a terribly specific set of goals in mind. I know that I am always telling people that they should make time for spiritual things, for retreats, for prayer. And I know that I can't give what I don't have. So, I went to spend some time apart, in the land where our faith has roots---and remember. I remembered. I prayed. I wept. I sang. I photographed the places I visited. I wrote in my journal, and shared some of what I wrote in this blog. I find that the photographs have become a source of prayer and meditation for me. People have asked me what souvenirs I brought back----I didn't shop much. I brought back photos to help me keep the memories.

The women who were part of the retreat are amazing---and I learned so much from being part of our collective journey.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord! The Gospel account is Luke: 9: 28-36 (which is why I included the cloud photo!).

Mt Tabor is the site of the Basilica of the Transfiguration----the early Church Fathers believed that Tabor was the site, but others have suggested Mt Hermon or Mt Arbel. But this is where the church is and where pilgrims remember the event. I remembered all the times I've given talks on retreats and mission weeks and asked people not to build their tents on the high point of the experience, but to remember that the Transfiguration only happened once. The rest of the time, Jesus and his followers were going up the mountain, going down the mountain, and walking across valleys and plains.

It's easy to want to build tents on the mountain top---but in time, I think we'd become complacent and bored with the view. We would forget how good we have it, because we wouldn't have anything else to compare it to.

I spent time in the two side chapels---the ones for Moses and Elijah----praying for the strength to continue down the mountain and into the valleys, where most of our lives are spent.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

There is still much to say...

I'm back, in jet lag recovery mode. Thanks to all for your response to my bloggage---the conversation is good, yes?

There are more photos and reflections to share. Whenever I've had experiences that are reflective and/or life-changing in nature---the learning and understanding happen over time. I will continue to post photos and reflections--so stay tuned, and let's continue the conversation.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anointing Stone

This is another view of the Anointing Stone in the Sepulchre Church. In this view, you see the beautiful mosaic of Jesus being taken down from the Cross----one of the leaders pointed out that the angels are weeping. The one up in the right hand corner is blowing her nose.

Up on the roof, part II

This was the view from the roof of our hotel in Jerusalem---they had a light show that played during the week on the walls surrounding the Jaffa Gate. It wasn't free, but we decided that it would be more fun to watch the top half of the show, for free, from the roof of the hotel. So there you are.

Magdalene chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This has been my favorite place to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When I was here in 2000, I completely missed this chapel. Once you've experienced the chaos that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you completely understand how this could happen.

I didn't have to work too hard to convince Jo to head out of the hotel at 5:45 AM to come back to this place so as to avoid some of the chaos that marks the later part of the day. It was still a bit chaotic, but worth it to get here with fewer people to deal with. There was still a lot of noise, a lot of chant competition (!)---but I got to spend a few quiet moments in front of this beautiful sculpture depicting Mary of Magdala and Jesus as they encountered each other immediately after the Resurrection. Mary of Magdala. Woman of courage, determination-- who first spoke the news of the Resurrection to the disciples of Jesus. They didn't believe her. She believed. They figured it out. She had the news first. You go, girl.

That's what they really call them...

All the crosswalk signs look the same...

Perhaps women don't cross the street here.

Let's not and say we did


Monday, July 26, 2010

Departure lounge in Tel Aviv

There was something interesting and beautiful about watching this man take the time to put on all of his prayer array---shawl, philacteries (small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah, and worn during weekday prayers). He spent his time praying, while waiting for his flight.

Western Wall

I took this before I found out that it's apparently forbidden to use electronic devices on the Sabbath.

The Wall

The apartheid wall continues to be built. It is huge----the scale is unimaginable. The wall is turning the West Bank into a huge concentration camp. To understand the wall, here are two books to consider:

"The Lemon Tree" by Sandy Tolan---I haven’t yet read it but it was recommended to me by several people. It's the first book I will read when I return.

"Peace, Not Apartheid" by Jimmy Carter. This is the book that got Jimmy Carter in trouble with Israel, and apparently now the IDF won’t let him into West Bank.

Driving through the checkpoints at the wall has been one of the most upsetting experiences here, especially when I realize that I can leave, but they can’t.

I can leave.

They can't.


The place that Christians hold as the birthplace of Christ has been turned into a prison, essentially. We spent a day in Bethlehem, mostly at Bethlehem University, meeting with students and learning, learning, learning. The situation for the Palestinian Christians, in particular, is bad and getting worse. They are basically imprisoned by the apartheid wall that is being built around them. They haven’t much left of their economy, because fewer and fewer tour groups come here. Getting through the checkpoints in the wall is difficult and time consuming---not to mention intimidating, which makes people not want to come here. We sang Christmas carols in Shepherd’s field, we visited the Church of the Nativity--- the damage from the Israeli mortars that were fired into it (and into Casa Nova—the Franciscan Guest house next door) in 2002 appears to be cleaned up---but you can still see bullet holes. That bit of news didn’t appear in our media---probably because Christians in America would be outraged.

Bethlehem feels sad and stifling. I’m sure Jesus is weeping over Bethlehem, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I remember my first visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2000. I had heard of a mental illness that pilgrims get when they come to Jerusalem---called “Jerusalem Syndrome” and didn’t quite understand it. When I got to the church, we were prevented from going in to the tomb area because the Armenian clergy were there performing a ritual. They were going in and out of the edicule over the tomb, chanting and swinging their thuribles with jingle bells. Then the Syrian Orthodox started chanting in their chapel up on Calvary, and almost immediately, the Greek Orthodox started chanting in their chapel, which is in the Catholicon in the center of the Church. It was chaos, and they all sounded mad at each other. The final addition was the organ over in the Magdalene chapel----someone started playing “Tantum Ergo” at full volume.

Here I was in what Christians hold as their holiest site, and all I wanted to do was leave. The bridge, between what I held as a picture of Jerusalem in my mind, and the reality that is there, was fragile indeed. I understood what “Jerusalem Syndrome” might be. The very real conflicts between the various Christian groups that claim territory there are sad, to say the least. You can actually view the fistfights that happen there during the holiest of days on YouTube. Not a great example for us Christians to be setting. I have learned a lot here about how religion is used as a weapon---by all religious groups. It doesn’t speak well for any of us.

The chaos was somewhat less this time, but still present. It’s a holy place----the place where pilgrims remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus---and it may or may not be built over the actual sites of those events. The archeology is fascinating. The place is holy because the memory and the prayer make it so.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weeping in Jerusalem

We stood on top of the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. You have to put your brain and ears in a different place, otherwise it’s too easy to get distracted by the constant “Postcards, 10 for 1 dollah” guys who are every, and I do mean, everywhere. It’s easy to forget that you are in the holiest city in the world for Christians.

But it’s easy to weep over the city of Jerusalem. We listened to a speaker last evening who is working with interfaith groups to try to break down walls between people of different faiths and build peace. This is not an easy thing. Racism and religious prejudice run high here (as it does in the United States!). If Jerusalem could live in peace…..perhaps the rest of the world could as well.

I read Ps. 122 and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

What is clear to me is this-- Jesus still weeps over Jerusalem.


We visited many places in the Old City today, among them, St Anne’s Church. It’s a beautiful church, at the site of Bethesda. We arrived to the sounds of a music group---some young men from Yale, who were singing acapella Broadway songs in the Sanctuary. I’m sure that if the priests had understood the music they were singing, they wouldn’t have permitted them to do that! I'm guessing that they were just rehearsing and loving the sounds of the acoustics there.

They left, our group was alone in the church, and it felt as though we needed to reclaim the Church with sacred music----we decided to pray the Magnificat and I was asked to lead it. I love two different Magnificats---Leon Roberts' version (sung by ValLimar Jansen) and John Michael Talbot’s version. That's the one we sang. I was humbled to be able to sing Mary’s Canticle in the church dedicated to her mother, my patron saint. This church has the best acoustics ever in any church I have sung in. To hear all of our voices rise in the refrain of “Holy, holy, holy is God’s name,” was overwhelming. I could barely choke my way through it. I don't do well singing through tears. The sound of all of our voices washed over me. It was like the ocean---the song and the reverb rose and fell back like the tide. The reverb seemed to go on forever---as did our prayer.

Singing at St Anne's

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
And my spirit exults in God, my Savior
For God has looked with mercy on my lowliness
And my name will be forever exalted
For the mighty God has done great things for me
And God's mercy will reach from age to age
And holy, holy, holy is God's name"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just keeping it real, folks.....

Seen on the road to Jerusalem

Church of Mary Magdalene

The Church of Mary Magdalene is located across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock--and it's across the street from the Garden of Gethsemane. It's in the domain of the Russian Orthodox who have a newly strict dress code--no pants, no shorts, only skirts for women and no shorts for men. We were scolded for wearing pants, and handed some wraparound skirts to wear. They ran out when they got to me, so I hiked up the stairs thinking that there would be a skirt waiting for me at the top. No skirt. No more scolding either. And the absolute BEST part was seeing all the MEN in shorts who had to wear the skirts to get into the Church. Hee. Justice. Just a little bit.

That said, today is her feast day, and it was wonderful to celebrate this here. Mary of Magdala has been restored, I hope. She was not a woman of ill repute. She was not married to Jesus. She was not the un-named woman in Luke's Gospel who weeps at the feet of Jesus and anoints his feet with oil. She was and is, the apostle to the apostles. She was the first to see the Risen Lord, and the first to tell the others of the news. She was a strong woman of faith who is a role model for all women, through all time. I am grateful to have spent part of her feast day in the church that bears her name in Jerusalem.

One of the questions for reflection for today is:

When in my life have I been clear about who I am and what I must do--even at great cost?

Anointing Stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Greek Altar at Calvary

From our retreat book for today:

"What is worthy of outcry to God?"

I remember standing here 10 years ago and thinking that the place where pilgrims commemorate the crucifixion was over-decorated. I remember wishing that it was simpler, less ornate. I had only seen photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in passing and hadn't really paid attention, so my mind had pictured things differently.

And then, when I stood here for the first time, I found myself distracted, as I did today, by the memory of the places I had visited in West Bank, the people I had met, their stories. I had stood in the places where Jesus continues to be crucified every day. That's what I took to prayer 10 years ago, and that's what I continue to take to prayer today.

So, I crawled under the altar, felt inside the smaller altar for the rock underneath, and remembered that thousands upon thousands of pilgrims have done the same thing. I looked past the ornate-ness and remembered that I have met people in Bethlehem who haven't ever been to this site, or any other holy site, because they are not allowed to travel here. I remembered the ones who have had their houses bulldozed, their arms broken, their children killed, their lives shattered. They are Jesus, crucified in the Holy Land, in a place other than this.

The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Yup, the roof. We got up on the roof. As part of the 'status quo' the Ethiopians have a small monastery on the roof, along with a chapel. On the roof.



Miryam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, was the epitome of a strong woman. She was sister, composer, musician, dancer, prophet and leader. She is the one who probably composed the Exodus 15 canticle that celebrates the deliverance of God's people from the slavery of the Egyptians. This is a photo taken in the Zin Wilderness, where Miryam died, and where we spent time in prayer. You can feel her spirit there. It gives new life and a new memory to her canticle which we sing every year at the Easter Vigil:

"I am free, I will sing to the Lord, triumphant is He, the horse and chariot He cast into the sea."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Into the Jordan....

We stepped into the Jordan River this morning to renew our baptismal promises. There are several areas where groups can gather and we were next to a group that was doing the entire immersion baptism experience (apparently you can rent baptismal attire--who knew?). We didn’t do full immersion, although it would have been interesting with all the fish that were swimming around. Fish. Lots and lots of little fish.

We made a statement of belief and a commitment for the future. We had water poured over our heads and were anointed with oil.

Baptism is something that most of us cradle Catholics let go over our heads (no pun intended!)----it happened when we were infants and didn’t have a clue about what we were saying ‘yes’ to. The commitments we make at Baptism drive the rest of our spiritual lives. All of our ministry and work flows from this Sacrament, and so it always feels sad to me that I don’t remember my Baptism.

I feel so much gratitude to have this new memory of Baptism in the same waters that Jesus and John the Baptist stepped into in 1st Century Palestine.


I missed the Dead Sea Scrolls when they visited Seattle several years ago. Life was so busy, and I just kept putting it off and then they were gone. I regretted it mightily then, and I REAAAALLLLLYYY regretted it today when we visited Qumran, where the scrolls were first discovered 1947-1952. This is a photo of Cave 4, the most famous of the caves, which produced approx. 90% of the scrolls.

It was amazing to be in that place and sense the ancient history around me. We reflect on commitment today, and seeing the hard land they chose to live in, I am in awe of the commitment of the ones who lived the hard life at Qumran for the sake of their faith.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunset at Church on Mount of Beatitudes

While the retreat is something that is inter-active and has us on the move every day, there is still time and space for personal reflection, journaling and prayer, for which I am grateful. I work in a ministry that is, by the very nature of it, loud. Very, very loud, so I relish quiet time, where I can sort out my thoughts, recharge my inner batteries---and one of the ways I can do this is by spending some time on my own. The church at the Mt of Beatitudes is a lovely place to walk to, and spend time in prayer. This is a 'high place' for me. We spoke of the high places today---they were alt. places of worship and condemned as places of idolatry because true worship, they thought at the time, happened in Jerusalem. We reflect on the high places in our own lives and how they are places of inclusion. This beautiful site, at the top of the Mt of Beatitudes, is a thoughtful place for reflection. For our reflection today---"What do my own 'high places' look like?" This is what one of my many 'high places' looks like.

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

This is the view off the back of the Church on the Mount of Beatitudes. This has been my favorite place to walk and reflect on the way to our evening reflection session. You can't help but be moved by the beauty and serenity of this place.

Mud Gate at Dan

The second oldest mud gate in Israel---circa 1700 BC

Waterfall at Banias

This is the waterfall at the headwaters of the Jordan River. We know Banias better by a different name---Caesarea Phillipi. We read Mark 8:27-29 and Jesus asks "Who do you say I am?" The question we reflect on today is this: If I were to ask Jesus "who do you say I am?" how might he answer me?

Jordan River

Several priests dropped by to renew their Baptismal vows in the Jordan River headwaters.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The view from my window.

Location:Mount of Beatitudes