# Red Wednesday

Westminster Cathedral (Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk) courtesy Catholic Herald

You know me well enough to know you won’t find an article here on Friday about which of the sales are the best – my advice is if possible sleep of the food from Thursday. 🙂 But while I often denigrate virtue signaling, signals remain important. Today is a signal, churches in the United Kingdom, including Winchester Cathedral and a dozen other cathedrals, Walsingham and about 80 other churches, and the House of Parliament will be floodlit this evening in Red, as a reminder of Christian persecution.

Many churches in the US will follow suit, although I don’t have numbers here.

In Iraq, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, says that Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will also be lit in red.

In the Philippines, according to GMA News Online,

The Philippines is joining for the first time Red Wednesday, a worldwide religious activity geared towards raising awareness on the “ever-increasing” trend of Christian persecution in the world, set for November 22, in scores of cathedrals, dioceses and Catholic universities in the country.

On Wednesday, the façades of 82 participating churches, ecclesiastical territories, and universities will be bathed in red light, “the color of martyrdom,” to bring attention to the suffering of Christians being persecuted in many parts of the world, said Jonathan Luciano, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Philippines.

The international event, which is mainly marked by a Mass and the symbolic lighting, was first held last year, but Luciano said he hopes it will be an annual event for the church in the Philippines.

Luciano, quoting Pope Francis, said “there are more martyrs now than at the beginning of the Church,” referring to the large numbers of Christians who are in varying situations made to suffer for their faith.

Reading from a report, meanwhile, Mark von Riedemann of ACN’s parent office in the United Kingdom, outlined some of the scenarios of persecution Christians face.

In Iraq, the Christian population has dwindled from 1.5 million in 2003 to 250,000 to 300,000, prompting the European Union to call the situation a “genocide of Christians,” he said.

ACN’s report found 75 percent of religious persecution occurs against Christians through three main categories: state-sponsored persecution, fundamentalist nationalism, and extremism.

According to the report, religious freedom in Sudan, for example, is seen to be “spiraling downwards” because of government-issued Islamist threats, such as the tearing down of churches, the fining of women for dressing “immodestly,” and the mass exodus of Christians after the state removed citizenship rights of people with origins outside of the country.

For an illustration of extremist-fueled violence, one need not look further than the Philippines’ own experience in Marawi City.

And such examples of persecution are not only a threat to the Christian faith itself, but to the “plurality of society” in general, said von Reidemann.

“The survival of Christianity is a test case for the survival of plurality as a whole,” he said.

Red Wednesday will not end persecution, its organizers conceded. After all, Christians have been facing persecution for thousands of years, said Luciano.

He’s right of course, and that is why I, and many others, are often critical of these symbolic demonstrations. Too often they substitute for actually doing something, and that is a danger here. But it is also true, that if people are not aware of how extreme persecution has gotten, and the media isn’t telling much of anyone, then it is worth doing, simply to raise awareness. But it needs to be followed up with serious proposals, and even more important: action.

Symbols without follow-up are futile, but symbols are important.

#RedWednesday

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Lillie Langtry and American Judges

I haven’t said anything much about Judge Roy Moore, or in fact, most of the others, who it seems are being hounded out of public life, both here and in the United Kingdom. Nor do I intend to. Jay D. Homnick writing in The Spectator tells you why.

Judge Roy Moore has always come across as an anachronism, a frontier character letting chips fall as they may and consequences be damned. It is hard to think of him without harking back to Judge Roy Bean, the quirky Justice of the Peace who ruled with an iron and ironic hand, dispensing a brand of justice from his saloon in Southwest Texas during the waning days of the 19th century. Unlike other jurisdictions which sentenced horse thieves to death, Bean would impose the commonsense sanction of making the man return the horse.

Bean was the father of four children, but he was so infatuated with the image of English actress Lilly Langtry that he left her a lasting monument in naming the town of Langtry, Texas. Eventually Miss Langtry paid a visit to her namesake municipality, ten months after old Roy had passed on to his reward.

Our Roy has appeared to be cut from the same cloth, at least in his ability to stand up to the critics and the naysayers. He has stood up for what is right countless times, often paying high prices. […]

So now we are confronted by accusers who ascribe to him inexcusable sexual behavior from four decades ago, before his marriage. And suddenly everyone is angrily encamping on opposing battle lines to believe the victims or discredit their accounts.

My answer is simple: none of the above. I refuse to include this into the duties of the voter. With thirty days to go before an election, we must suddenly invest our attention in an extra-judicial process to listen carefully to a prosecution and a defense delivered in press conferences, then take on the role of judge and jury.

I refuse to play. I enjoy the Eyes for Lies blog as much as the next guy, but trying to be a human lie detector is not a job for the masses, and certainly not one to be assigned to the voting public. No one has the right to demand that I sit and listen to the audio of a he-said-she-said dispute and to vote on the basis of whose voice had a more genuine quaver.

Precisely, as a Christian, I prescribe to the same code, learned at my parent’s knee long ago, our countries will be fine if run on the basis of the ten commandments.

The behavior which many of the men are accused is morally, ethically, and legally wrong. The place for this is the Grand Jury room, in these cases almost uniformly a score of years ago. If you didn’t report it then, you’re after something other than justice now, and that makes your complaint irrelevant. If they actually acted this way, and you had done the right thing and reported it, even signed a police complaint, maybe just maybe you could have saved some other woman the same distress, humiliation, even victimhood. But you didn’t care about anybody but yourself then, especially not another woman, and so you put yourself outside of my circle of responsibility. You made this mess, you can clean it up, or you can live in it. Not my problem. Yep, I’d vote for Judge Roy Moore, not only because I agree with a fair amount of what he says, but because the cretins in (and leading) Congress don’t. Time to put a spoke in their wheel.

Now, about Lilly Langtry, Old Judge Roy Bean may or may not have been the best justice of the peace in Texas, but he was certainly a competent judge of the physical beauty of women, even those he had not met. 🙂

Saints and Sinners

Pastor Hans Fiene.

There something interesting going on lately, particularly in conservative blogging. There are suddenly a certain number of the best writers going who write from a Christian, specifically Lutheran, perspective. A surprising number of them get highlighted here, not specifically because they are Lutheran, but because they are so good.

One of them is Rev Hans Fiene, a pastor in the LC Missouri Synod. Thos of you who know the Lutheran synods will know that the LCMS is pretty conservative, which means essentially that they teach the theology that Rev Dr Luther taught. And so Pastor Fiene does. Sound dry boring, and hard doesn’t it? Well, yeah, No. One of the things he does is Lutheran Satire. Here’s another sample that I don’t believe I’ve used before.

He’s very productive so you can find many on YouTube, it’s one of those places where I can spend days, and will if I’m not careful.

In any case, what Pastor Fiene teaches is pure Christian orthodoxy, and in most cases, he does it by making reasonably gentle fun of heterodoxy. All good and well. But he, like any good pastor, can bring it home when it needs to. And after Sutherland Springs he needed to.

I do my best to avoid the most sewer like areas on Twitter but sometimes they flood over like the Mississippi in spring, and this was one of them. Stuff like this.

or this:

Lovely, eh?

Well, Pastor Feine wasn’t amused either, and he thought a bit of a sermon might be in order. So, he wrote this.

However, we should all recognize that pointing to a couple dozen warm corpses and saying, “Fat lot of good your Jebus-begging did you” is an act of profound ugliness.

It’s also an act of profound ignorance. For those with little understanding of and less regard for the Christian faith, there may be no greater image of prayer’s futility than Christians being gunned down mid-supplication. But for those familiar with the Bible’s promises concerning prayer and violence, nothing could be further from the truth. When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning. While it doesn’t appear that the Lord’s Prayer is formally a part of the worship services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, I have no doubt that members of that congregation have prayed these words countless times in their lives.

Evil Isn’t Just Temporal

When we pray these words, we are certainly praying that God would deliver us from evil temporally—that is, in this earthly life. Through these words, we are asking God to send his holy angels to guard us from those who would seek to destroy us with knives and bombs and bullets. It may seem, on the surface, that God was refusing to give such protection to his Texan children. But we are also praying that God would deliver us from evil eternally. Through these same words, we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

During Christ’s crucifixion, for example, the same chief priests, scribes, and elders who conspired to put Jesus to death mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’”

Yet God proved his son’s divinity by, three days later, lifting him up out of the death those men gave him. Despite the chief priests, elders, and scribes doing all they could to silence the one who claimed to be the savior of the world, God turned their hatred into the catalyst of the world’s salvation.

Well, as is normal for Christians these days, especially orthodox ones, he pinned a great big target on his back, as I suspect he intended to.

Kim Quade, another one of us Lutherans out here described the shitstorm that enveloped Hans in her article, Lutheran Pastor Sets Off Storm with Article About Texas Massacre. It’s a good article, as well.

And, because Hans Fiene is a pastor with a German name in a German heritage Lutheran church body, someone blew the Nazi dog whistle:

There is absolutely no doubt that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) – the ‘mainline’ strand of Lutherdom – would never condone such a remark by this right-wing Lutheran pastor. indeed, this right-wing Lutheran pastor happens to be a member of LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod). . . Whereas the membership of the LCMS is predominantly German-American, the membership of the ELCA is primarily Scandinavian-American and Finnish-American. . .

And they went on and on. As my husband said, the intellectual wattage demonstrated in that comments thread couldn’t power a 40-watt bulb.

Hans Fiene himself said, in a podcast on the controversy released on Tuesday, that this sentiment is part of ‘outrage addiction,’ which ‘makes us all stupider.’ These people are ‘chasing a dopamine release.’ Fiene also adds that ‘outrage addiction’ exists on the right, as well. Neither camp is exempt.

Sadly, for the hearer of dog whistles, unlike Pastor Fiene and Kim, I’m an ELCA Lutheran, and have been for 30+ years. Much of what the ELCA has temporized out of the basic doctrines of Christianity is pretty bad, just as it is in the Episcopal Church, but the basic doctrine is exactly the same as taught here. Do I personally have problems with a lot of the revisionism in the ELCA? Yep, but not quite enough, yet anyway, to change.

Frankly, I think  Pastor Frank Pomeroy of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX, who lost his 14-year-old daughter in the massacre, said it best.

“I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”

“Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding.”

It’s enough for me, anyway. And I am reminded that Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, long before the Nazis hanged him.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

 

The Reformation at 500

So, five hundred years ago today, a young monk nailed 95 points of contention on the door of a church in Germany. Or maybe he didn’t. Current research indicates that he (yes, his name was indeed Martin Luther) actually mailed two copies, both with personal cover letters to Albrecht the archbishop of Mainz and to Jerome [Scultetus] the Bishop of Brandenburg. Both were in his line of command.

The main complaint was indeed Johann Tetzel, the overzealous seller of indulgences (and Grand Inquisitor of Heresy to Poland). That he didn’t detonate this bomb with a hammer on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, doesn’t change the fact that it was a bomb.

Tetzell left us a memorable phrase, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul out of purgatory springs“. Although, again, he may never have said it. But somebody did in early 16th century Germany. In Theses 27, Luther wrote,

27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. 28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone (LW 31:27).

Part of the reason it became so heated is that the money from the sale of indulgences was being used to build St Peters Basilica in Rome, as Luther put it, on the backs of poor German peasants. There were other things as well.

Luther also departed radically from medieval perceptions of human righteousness, single-faceted as they were. Righteousness meant for the spectrum of theological voices from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas to Ockham and Biel that human beings in some way met the demands for perfect performance of God’s law in one way or another. That might be possible, as Augustine taught, only through the aid of God’s grace and with his gracious forgiveness. Aquinas, too, taught the prevenient grace had to come before good works but that good works constituted that which makes God take pleasure in his human creatures.

Despite the admission that God’s grace is necessary for becoming righteous, this one-dimensional understanding of human identity or righteousness placed Luther continuously under God’s judgment until he discovered that human righteousness in God’s sight comes alone from God and that there are two facets to human identity. […]

A simple theological parable may clarify the distinction. Although by the definition of his own theology Thomas Aquinas had sufficient merit to proceed directly to heaven, without having to work off temporal punishment in purgatory, the Dominican saint dallied along the way, visiting old friends and doing research among those who still had purgatorial satisfactions to discharge there. He arrived at Saint Peter’s gate some 272 years after his death, on February 18, 1546. After ascertaining his name, Saint Peter asked Thomas, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” “Because of the grace of God,” Thomas answered, ready to explain the concept of prevenient grace should it be necessary. Peter asked instead, “How do I know you have God’s grace?” Thomas, who had brought a sack of his good deeds with him, was ready with the proof. “Here are the good works of a lifetime,” he explained. “I could have done none of them without God’s grace, but in my worship and observation of monastic rules, in my obedience to parents, governors, and superiors, in my concern for the physical well-being and property of others, in my chastity and continence, you can see my righteousness – grace-assisted as it may be.” Since a line was forming behind Thomas, Peter waved him in, certain that Thomas would soon receive a clearer understanding of his own righteousness. The next person in line stepped up. “Name?” “Martin Luther.” “Why should I let you into my heaven?” “Because of the grace of God.” Peter was in a playful mood, so he went on, “How do I know you have God’s grace? Thomas had his works to prove his righteousness, but I don’t see that you have brought any proof along that you are righteous.” “Works?” Luther exclaimed. “Works? I didn’t know I was supposed to bring my works with me! I thought they belonged on earth, with my neighbors. I left them down there.” “Well,” said Gatekeeper Peter, “how then am I supposed to know that you really have God’s grace?” Luther pulled a little, well-worn, oft-read scrap of paper out of his pocket and showed it to Peter. On it were the words, “Martin Luther, baptized, November 11, in the year of our Lord 1483.” “You check with Jesus,” Luther said. “He will tell you that I have been born again as a member of the family. He will tell you that he has given me the gift of righteousness through his own blood and his own resurrection.”

This is a superb article if one wants to understand what the Reformation was about. You can find it here, Luther’s Truths, Then and Now. Mind, it is long.

But I want to highlight four things which are different in how we Lutherans view the Reformation, even from other Protestants, according to Gene Veith, whom many of you know I have found a reliable guide to Lutheran thought. They are very truncated from what Dr Veith wrote, do follow the link.

I.  Reforming the church is not the same as starting a new church.  There is a difference between fixing up a house that has fallen into disrepair and tearing down the house and building a new one.  […]

Thus, Lutheran worship took the liturgy and removed prayers to the saints, references to Purgatory, and other elements that pointed away from Christ.  But most of the liturgy remained.

II.  Luther didn’t split the church.  The pope did.  Luther is credited or blamed for splitting what was once a unified Christian church.  When Luther posted his 95 theses, he was drawing attention to clear abuses, financial corruption, and theological confusion.  That his complaints were valid is demonstrated by the Roman Catholic church eventually changing the specific practices to which Luther was originally objecting.

III.  The Bible wasn’t translated so that individuals could interpret it for themselves.  I once heard the Lutheran theologian David Jay Webber comment that “Lutherans resist interpretation.”  You don’t read the Bible so that you can make up your own theology.  You read the Bible for a confrontation with God.

IV.  The Reformation did not replace Sacramental Christianity.  Luther’s Reformation was about strengthening sacramental Christianity.  Baptism does not just wash away original sin and the sins committed before Baptism, after which you must resort to the rite of penitence ; rather, in the words of George Herbert, Baptism “measures all my time.”  Lutherans retained confession and absolution, not as a separate sacrament, but as a function of Baptism, since sins are forgiven using the Baptismal formula, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  Furthermore, sins that have been forgiven do not require “temporal punishment” in Purgatory.  To Lutheran Reformers, Holy Communion is not a new sacrifice of Christ, to be received only by those who have been shriven of their sins and are in a state of purity; rather, it is Christ giving His Body and His blood “for you,” to the sinner, for remission of sins.

So there you go, 500 years ago today, a simple German (or was he?) monk and priest, in fact, a Doctor of the Church, set out to see things that were visibly wrong in the Church of his day. As usual with the things of man, it did not go quite as he planned. but he did succeed in reforming that Church, and established another as a counterweight, which if we pay attention can help both churches to stay on track.

Along the way, he established the way the German language is used to this day, maybe not on Shakespeare’s level, but on Tyndale’s, and he gave us concepts in Christianity that have served us well, all over the world.

Let’s end by going back to Robert Kolb for a bit, shall we? For truly, here lies one of the root stems of the modern world, in all its glory, and in its evil as well.

Luther recognized both the promise and the ambiguity of new technology and new modes of communication. In a world in which God’s material blessings flow richly with gifts that can aid our thinking and our communicating, new modes of communicating can also be hijacked by Satan. Further complicating matters, disciplines always carry ideological baggage and need Christ critique. In such a world, Luther’s ability to marshal technology as well as an array of colleagues and their teaching across the spectrum of the curriculum of the time should serve as a model for us. Luther’s emphasis on literacy endowed us sociologically with a kind of upward social mobility. […]

The Paris Statement

Archbishop Cranmer brings us tidings of a new statement, ‘The Paris Statement’ they call it. One of the writers is no less than Professor Sir Roger Scruton. That makes it worth paying attention to. So does the content. Here is some of his description.

In May 2017, a group of conservative scholars and intellectuals met in Paris…

No, don’t yawn.

They say they were “brought together by their common concern about the current state of European politics, culture, society and, above all, the state of the European mind and imagination. Through delusion and self-deception and ideological distortion, Europe is dissipating her great civilizational inheritance.”

Well, that’s true, isn’t it?

Unless your name is Nick Clegg, AC Grayling, or you happen to be a bishop in the Church of England (not Shrewsbury).

These fine conservative minds, which included our very own Professor Sir Roger Scruton, produced ‘The Paris Statement’, which kind of makes sense as a title because they were in Paris when they issued their tome, which might indeed be viewed as a statement because their words were issued quasi-authoritatively, as conservative scholars and intellectuals are wont to do. And ‘Paris’ gives the statement an aura of continental enlightenment in ways which, say, ‘The Slough Statement’ or ‘The Lewisham Statement’ probably never could.

The preamble continues:

Instead of simply wringing their hands in fruitless anxiety, or adding yet another tome to the ample literature that diagnoses “the decline of the West”, the Paris participants believed it was important to make an affirmation, and to do so publicly. They expressed their attachment to “the true Europe,” and did so with reasons that can be recognized by all. In doing so, it was first necessary to give an account of this true Europe, which lies hidden beneath the fashionable abstractions of our age.

The result is, “A Europe We Can Believe In.” This Paris Statement is a ringing call for a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, Europe’s true genius. It is an invitation to the peoples of Europe to actively recover what is best in our tradition, and to build a peaceful, hopeful, and noble future together.

The Paris Statement is good, very good, contrasting, as it does, the false Europe of teleological superstition and utopian tyranny with the true Europe of nation-state cooperation based on Christian solidarity and civic loyalty. Consider:

Europe, in all its richness and greatness, is threatened by a false understanding of itself. This false Europe imagines itself as a fulfilment of our civilization, but in truth it will confiscate our home. It appeals to exaggerations and distortions of Europe’s authentic virtues while remaining blind to its own vices. Complacently trading in one-sided caricatures of our history, this false Europe is invincibly prejudiced against the past. Its proponents are orphans by choice, and they presume that to be an orphan—to be homeless—is a noble achievement. In this way, the false Europe praises itself as the forerunner of a universal community that is neither universal nor a community.

Good, that.

Well, you know what? I just read their statement, and aside from a few quibbles, much the same ones as His Grace mentioned in his article it is very good. So good on them. It’s also very good to see that there are conservatives in western Europe, we’re all aware of Sir Roger, but from the rest, it’s a rare (and most welcome) spark of conservatism. The Statement is here, and well worth a read.

I very much fear that Europe is a lost cause, but then again so was the American Revolution, so I wish them luck and Godspeed in their mission. For most of us, Europe is our ultimate homeland, and watching it go down without a fight is disheartening at best. It is time for Europa to again tame the bull, I think.

Bare Ruined Choirs

In Sonnet LXXIII Shakespeare wrote

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long

Not one of his happiest, but it accords well with my feelings, this fall. It hasn’t been a year I would wish on anybody, but this is the season when I understand why All Hollow’s is sometimes called Totenfest by those of German heritage. Tomorrow is the Feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, and for me, that has significance as well. Six years ago, I had never heard of Walsingham, let alone this representation of Mary, but One summer day in 2012, Jessica became my dearest friend at almost the moment she lit a candle for me at the shrine. The main part of the story begins here. I have ever since found Mary a worthwhile conduit for my prayers. But for me, it’s specifically the Walsingham representation. Earlier this year,  Fr Matthew Pittam wrote in the Catholic Herald about his feeling for the Shrine.

 

Whilst visiting this year I met some other pilgrims who were unfavourably comparing Walsingham to other well-known European Shrines that they had visited. It is true Walsingham is no Lourdes or Fatima but for me that is part of the appeal of the place. It seems right that the English National Shrine is understated, reflecting the character of the English themselves.

The story of Our Lady’s Shrine and the meaning of its message demand a much tenderer charism than Walsingham’s more flamboyant European cousins. Above all Walsingham is a memorial to the Annunciation. The whole place speaks softly of Our Lady’s ‘Yes’ to God. Mary’s encounter with the Angel Gabriel was abundantly full of humility, generosity and peace. The quieter pace and rhythm of our National Shrine really can take us to the heart of this life changing and life-giving moment.

The location of Walsingham is also understated. It is not set amidst mountain grandeur but nestles within the pleasant rolling meadows of the Stiffkey Valley, echoing the gentleness of the shrine’s own spirituality and Our Lady. The whole place seems to be set apart for peaceful encounter.

He nails it for me. Without the slightest intention to be offensive, much of Roman Catholicism is too ornate, too baroque, and the decoration, like some of the verbiage, is over extravagant for me. That’s not a knock on it, it simply doesn’t fit with this working guy of Lutheran Scandinavian heritage. I’m no iconoclast, but enough is enough. Both the Roman Catholic and the Anglo-Catholic shrines at Walsingham have a northern European feel about them, which I find comforting. I’m still of my roots, I have found it comforting to talk with Our Lady, as Jessica once said, it feels rather like talking to Mom, which in a sense it is.

And then there is the relief, that I have felt on several occasions, after talking with Her, usually not the formal Rosary, although I do that sometimes as well, mostly sitting here, meditating silently directed towards Her. The old man’s knees aren’t really up to kneeling much anymore, anyway. 🙂

Strangely, it is only 3 years, nearly to the day, since the Abbess from Walsingham came to Jessica’s hospital bed to pray over her and sprinkle her with Walsingham water, giving her some ease, and then again a mere two weeks later, just after she received the last rites, she again prayed over her and sprinkled her. Two days later she was out of her coma, without pain and cancer free. A remarkable testimony to the power of prayer.

A year after that Mary Katherine Ham lost her husband,  Jake in a bicycle accident while pregnant with their second child. It was one of those things that shocked many of us, this young vibrant couple, and him suddenly gone. She wrote about it this week at The Federalist.

I love the idea of the divine spark. It crosses a lot of cultures and religions, the idea that you carry a bit of the Creator inside you, that it animates your life.

Jake’s life always brings to mind a spark and then some. Jake’s soul, to me, was a bonfire. He was here and he was in your face and he was warm and bright. He roared with enthusiasm at the beginning, even the hope of something new, sometimes a little too much. His glow was infectious, throwing sparks into the night air, silhouetted against a dark sky before they landed on everyone in his vicinity. He mellowed to embers as the night wore on, usually over a glass of bourbon or a beer.

I lived seven years of my life looking into a bonfire. I warmed my hands and found comfort in its flame. There were times when I damn near burnt myself or got a giant waft of smoke at exactly the wrong time.  Because that’s life. And that’s fire. It’s not all s’mores and sweetness.

Everyone who’s loved someone knows that light and warmth. Everyone who’s lost someone knows the feeling when it goes dark and cold one day.

When that happens at any time, it’s jarring. When it happens without warning, even more.

The light went out. This fire I’d stood next to for seven years just went out, like a flood light on a switch. Boom. Imagine staring into a fire, and then suddenly turning 180 degrees to survey the woods behind you. I couldn’t see. I was standing in what otherwise was my life, and I knew all the other parts of it were there, but I couldn’t understand its contours anymore. I was standing in my own life, blinded, blinking away those disorienting shimmery green spots.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. But you know when we lose someone we love, not even always to death, it’s like that as well. It was for me when my marriage broke up, and even though my sisters, parents and brothers-in-law lived full lives, in truth as much as could be expected, they have left a hole, that cannot be filled.

And so it was for me, a year ago today, when I received the last email from  Jessica, who as far as I know is healthy, happy, and busy. Too busy or some other unexplained reason, to maintain the friendship that turned to love on my part, more than I ever felt for another human being. And get your mind out of the gutter, yes she is beautiful, but I loved her before I knew that, far more a case of Agape than Eros. She was my friend, the best one I’ll ever have. And even Our Lady of Walsingham has found no way to comfort me. I’m reconciled that I must go on more alone than I have ever been, but have little appetite for it. Which is why that sonnet speaks loudly to me.

Walsingham, and Our Lady are her legacy to me, and I thank God for them everyday. But it does make me think of another poem.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

But it is true that while Eliot was writing of Little Gidding, I’ve always thought that this applied as well to Walsingham

           If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

We merely have to trust God that Dame Julian of Norwich was correct.

‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’

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