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Suddenly before my eyes
Hues of indigo arise
With them how my spirit sighs
Paint the sky with stars


Only night will ever know
Why the heavens never show
All the dreams there are to know
Paint the sky with stars

paint the night

Who has paced the midnight sky?
So a spirit has to fly
As the heavens seem so far
Now who will paint the midnight star?


Night has brought to those who sleep
Only dreams they cannot keep
I have legends in the deep
Paint the sky with stars

comet with stars

Who has paced the midnight sky?
So a spirit has to fly
As the heavens seem so far
Now who will paint the midnight star?


Place a name upon the night
One to set your heart alight
And to make the darkness bright
Paint the sky with stars

I have a terrible need…shall I say the word?…of religion. 

Then I go out at night and paint the stars. 

Van Gogh

lewis and sharon

Knowing a person in life is one thing; coming to know them in death is another.   Three and a half years ago my husband died, and two and a half years before that my mother, who lived with the two of us for nine years.  In those years together we became a close knit family.

After she passed I much avoided facing the pain of my mother ‘s death only then to realize in Lewis’ passing so closely thereafter that my heart strings had been torn from their moorings and I was adrift and very alone.

I had not been acquainted with a deep grief like this ever before and I had much to learn about the process of mourning.  For example,  I have come to learn that our mutual life continues even in death and that the two of us actually continue to exist and evolve together in unanticipated ways.   My knowing of Lewis–my wonder, gratitude and joy in our love for one another–has been kindled over and over again as I recall the many facets of his personality and uniqueness and turn the pages of our life together in my memory.   I cannot help but believe there is some kind of mutuality to this ongoing process.

So, too, the memories of my mother have re-percolated in my mind.   Scenes of my childhood, of our sometimes desperate, but mostly calm and wholesome life return to cheer me.  With her there was sadness at her death, but little sadness at all in any of the memories I share of her.  She was a cheerful and optimistic person, frank and unpretentiously warm, and while she suffered many burdens in her life, she did as much as she could to relieve me of mine.


Yesterday morning I dreamed of the both of them.  It was a fragment from a time in our common life about nine years ago.  My mother was living with us and in the dream Lewis and I were going about our usual morning activity, planning and sharing our thoughts to decide how we could best help my mother get through some challenges during some part of an ordinary day.

After waking slowly and centering my thoughts it seemed as if I had just opened a door and stepped into another room and they were still nearby.   Somehow, it is comforting for me to know that these memories will always be this accessible to my heart:  that I can see their faces and hear their voices and enjoy their company yet again.   A painful jolt of grief was also felt when I realized how many years have now passed and gone.   Fresh.  Gone.  All in the twinkle of time’s eye.   Do you not think they may have come for a timely visitation?  Perhaps.  One cannot know for certain.

What is for certain is that the three of us shared a deep and positive human companionship together.  Our children grown, we had time and a desire to care for my mother and she was always wanting to be helpful to us.

And the three of us came to enjoy even more the Christmas season when Lewis’ mother would come from Cincinnati and the four of us could have a family holiday reunion and spend relaxing time with our children and grandchildren.   Peels of laughter and intrigue would be in the air as mother and Agnes shared the daytime and evening hours while Lewis and I were at the office.   They could work on personal projects and liked to share their life stories and when we would arrive we would be met with tidbits of vital information on the day and what they had learned and observed with one another.

So it should not be a surprise that I find myself in a dream with my husband that my mother is with us there.   These are the two people who have been closest to me and who have loved and cared for me most of my life.

Today would have been my husband’s 69th birthday and I honor him today.

Lewis Sharon and Hazel2

A Holy and a Broken Hallelujah – Sermon for Advent 3, Year C – December 16, 2012

I am thankful to have Eric as a special spiritual friend….he knows whereof he speaks.

This sermon was preached on Sunday, December 16, 2012, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(Revised Common Lectionary, Advent 9, Year C: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9 (The First Song of Isaiah,

Ecce Deus, Isaiah 12:2-6); Philippians 4:4-7; and Luke 3:7-18.  These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

Broken Hallelujah Lyric

Did you pay attention to the words of the song we just saying as our sequence hymn?  Listen to them again:

Comfort, comfort ye my people, Speak ye peace, thus saith our God; Comfort those who sit in darkness, Mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load . . . .

(Hymn 67, The Hymnal 1982)

These are God’s words to the prophet Isaiah; we find them in the 40th chapter of Isaiah.  They are God’s instructions to Isaiah, but I think every priest hears them personally when we are called on to minister to someone in times of trouble and loss.  “Comfort, comfort my people; comfort those who are in sorrow.”

Since Friday morning when I, like many others, sat in stunned silence struggling to understand the horror of what had just happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I have had a recurring vision of Christmas presents under Christmas trees in darkened homes, presents that will never be unwrapped.  I see mothers and fathers sitting in that darkness mourning beneath a load of sorrow I don’t think I could ever comprehend, and I wonder if I as a priest or as a friend could speak any word of comfort to them.  I have known the pain and brokenness of losing loved ones; I have known the sadness that comes with the death of parents and siblings. But I can only imagine (and I’m sure completely inadequately) the grief and agony a parent must feel when his or her child has been murdered; I can only imagine how broken those parents’ hearts must be, how broken they must feel.  I don’t know if I could offer any comfort to them.

I have spent the past 48 hours following the news reports, weeping, screaming at the television, reading the statements of bishops and other clergy, enraged at the injustice of it, angry because as a society we seem unwilling (not incapable, unwilling) to do anything about the epidemic of gun violence that seems to sweep unchecked across our country.

This is not the way we are supposed to be on this, the Third, Sunday of Advent!  In the tradition of the church, today is known as Gaudete Sunday or “Rejoicing Sunday” because in the medieval church the introit, the first words of the Mass, was Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete, the first words of our epistle lesson this morning:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice.”  The same theme is struck in the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Zephaniah and in the Gradual taken from the Prophet Isaiah; these readings are meant to emphasize our joyous anticipation of the Lord’s coming.  “Rejoice and exult with all your heart,” Zephaniah cries out, but when our hearts are broken how are we to do that?  Here in the depths of dealing with a senseless act of brutality, there is damned little rejoicing in our broken hearts, there is damned little comfort.  We are in the midst of a murderous gun violence epidemic and I find it hard to rejoice.

Consider what has gone on in just the past week: last Sunday a man fatally shot his security-officer wife, tried to kill another person, and then killed himself in an employee parking lot at Cleveland-Hopkins Airport; on Tuesday a masked gunman killed two people and seriously injured another in a Portland, Oregon, shopping mall; on Friday, the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, the second worst mass shooting at a school in U.S. history; and yesterday, a gunman shot three people in a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.  Earlier this year we saw fatal mass shootings in Minneapolis, in Tulsa, in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in a theater in Colorado, in a coffee bar in Seattle, and in a college in California.  It is painfully clear that this is an epidemic of violence, that all is not well in our country.  Like our hearts, our society is broken.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 31,000 deaths from firearms annually in our country.  Of those, 500 are accidental; another 300 or so are considered “legal” as the result of law enforcement actions; and the nature of about 200 cannot be determined.  That means that about 30,000 intentional, illegal, fatal shootings occur in the United States in a year’s time; 62% of those are suicides; 38% are murders.

Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them; tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

As someone who, everyday, tries to speak the word of God to people who need to hear it, I don’t know that I can do that! I don’t know if I could comfort those parents mourning beneath their dark load of sorrow, and I don’t know how I could tell you that our warfare, our plague of gun violence is over!  Our warfare is not over; the slaughter goes on . . . one or two people here, thirteen theater-goers there, twenty children in Connecticut . . . the massacre continues more than 11,000 times a year.  Yes, it is painfully clear that this is an epidemic of violence, that all is not well in our country. Like our hearts, our society is broken.

John the Baptizer warned the people who came to him that all was not well in their society, that it was broken.  “Do not,” he told them, “begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’”  Don’t think that because you are who you are that all is well and that all will be well; it is not and it will not be.  Our society is broken!  “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’”  John’s answer was simplicity itself – do what you know to be right.  If you have two coats, if you have extra food, and your neighbor has none, share.  If you have taken on the job of tax collector, or if you are a soldier entitled to ask citizens for support, collect no more than you should, ask no more than is proper.  Just do what you know to be right, do what you know ought to be done.

Every time one of these mass shootings occurs there is an outpouring of public grief, and there are expressions of sorrow and sympathy.  Every time this has happened, however, we have been told that it is not the appropriate time to talk about strengthening our nation’s gun control laws; we are told that it is too soon to talk about doing something about gun violence; we are told that we have to give the families of the victims time to heal.  But as John the Baptizer said to those who came to him at the Jordan, the time is now – “Even now,” he said, “the ax is lying at the root of the trees . . . .”  There is no time like the present to do what we know to be right, to do what we know ought to be done.

I believe that that talk about time to heal is a sham.  I don’t think anyone ever “heals” from the death of a loved one; one remains broken.  I know that I have never “healed” from the deaths of my parents or of my brother or of any other person I loved; forever, after each death, there is a part of me that is and will always be broken.  As a parent, I am very sure I would never “heal” from the murder of my child; I would be forever broken.  But I know that life goes on and, through the grace of God, we are given the strength to live it, even as wounded, as broken, as broken-hearted as we may be.  As Isaiah said, “Surely, it is God who saves me; I will trust in him and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Savior.”  The one who was broken on Calvary’s tree was broken that I, in my brokenness, might be made whole.  Through his brokenness, in our brokenness, we are given the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Life goes on, and by the grace of our Savior we are given the strength to live it, and in it to do what we know to be right, to do what we know ought to be done.  The only question is whether we have the will to do it.

Make ye straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain; let your hearts be true and humble, as befits his holy reign.

Have we the will to do what we know to be right, to make what is crooked straight, to make what is rough plain?  Are our hearts, broken though they may be, true and humble as befits our Savior’s holy reign?

Many of you know that I’m a great fan of the singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and many of you are familiar with his song Hallelujah.  In it there is this great line:

Love is not a victory march It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

And again, later in the song, the singer says of love,

It’s not a cry you can hear at night It’s not somebody who has seen the light It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

In the funeral liturgy of our church, near the end of the service, the priest stands at the body of the deceased and says, “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”  When each of those twenty children, each of those seven adults are buried, their families will hear those as cold and broken Hallelujahs!  But as our Advent hymn reminds us in its conclusion,

For the glory of the Lord now o’er the earth is shed abroad, and all flesh shall see the token that the word is never broken.

Our hearts may be broken; our lives may be broken; our society may be broken, but God’s word, God’s promise is never broken. The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, he was broken . . . broken on the Cross that we might be made whole.  Risen unbroken though still bearing the scars of our brokenness, he will return again so that we might sing not a broken, but a whole Hallelujah, a holy Hallelujah, so that we might “rejoice in the Lord always.”

I still don’t know if I could comfort those grieving parents, but I do know that I believe God’s promise and that I believe in Jesus Christ whose birth we are preparing to celebrate.  And because I believe, I know that I could assure them in words just slightly changed from the end of Mr. Cohen’s song . . . .

There’s a blaze of light in every word It doesn’t matter which you heard The holy or the broken Hallelujah. * * * * And even though it all went wrong We’ll stand before the Lord in song With nothing on our tongue but Hallelujah!

Here are the accompanying lectionary readings for the morning:

The Collect

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the LORD.

Canticle 9    Page 86, BCP

The First Song of Isaiah    Ecce Deus

Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.
Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.
And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;
Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.
Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.
Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen. 

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Bankground Information re: the Film:

In 1865, as the American Civil War winds inexorably toward conclusion, U.S. president Abraham Lincoln endeavors to achieve passage of the landmark constitutional amendment which will forever ban slavery from the United States. However, his task is a race against time, for peace may come at any time, and if it comes before the amendment is passed, the returning southern states will stop it before it can become law. Lincoln must, by almost any means possible, obtain enough votes from a recalcitrant Congress before peace arrives and it is too late. Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war.


The movie Lincoln covers the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s life as the re-elected President continues to strive to lead the Union Army to victory, end the civil war, end slavery and start the healing process.

Adapted from The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln is directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. The cast for Lincoln includes Daniel Day-Lewis (as Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field, David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones and John Hawkes.

lincoln c

Quotation from this Gettysburg Address in the Film:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Quotations from Lincoln in the Film:

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.

lincoln e

Do we choose to be born? Or are we fitted to the times we’re born into?

We begin with equality, that’s the origin isn’t it?  That’s justice.

See we’ve shown that a people can endure awful sacrifice and yet cohere.

I am president of the United States, clothed in immense power, and I expect to you procure those votes.

Abolishing slavery settles the fate for all coming time, not only of the millions in bondage but of unborn millions to come.  Shall we stop this bleeding?  We must cure ourselves of slavery.  This amendment is that cure.  We are stepped out upon the world stage now, with the fate of human dignity in our hands. Blood’s been spilled to afford us this moment!

Now, now, now!

lincoln f

In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity.

True north is essential but you also have to navigate the swamps and deserts and chasms along the way – however grubby the journey may be. If you can’t do that, what’s the good of knowing true north?

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

lincoln g   bob

I must make my decisions, Bob must make his, you yours and bear what we must, hold and carry what we must. What I carry within me, you must allow me to do it, alone, as I must and you alone Mary, you alone may lighten this burden or render it intolerable as you choose.

Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do. In his book Euclid says this is self evident. You see there it is even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law it is the self evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other.

Slavery, sir, is done.


With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

To Mary:   We must both be more cheerful in the future. Between the war and the loss of our darling Willie we have been very miserable.

lincoln i

Here is a quote from one of the movie reviews by Jim Castagnera:

He  (Lincoln) completed the great task undertaken by the nation’s founders by saving the Union from disintegration and eradicating the blight of slavery, which for 75 years had mocked the lofty aspirations of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Lincoln was– in the words of a near-great successor, Teddy Roosevelt, “the man who is actually in the arena…, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood…, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement.”

For Steven Spielberg, arguably the greatest living filmmaker, Lincoln is a third exploration of America’s struggle with the “race issue.” The Color Purple (1985) and Amistad (1997) are the previous two. Both are fine films. Lincoln is a masterpiece. Its prospects for an Oscar sweep are high. If this prediction proves correct, the director’s attention to every detail will be a major contributing factor.

I said at the start of this review that Day-Lewis is Lincoln. The film is 1865. As rarely as I have witnessed an actor become one with his character, just so rarely have I been drawn into a period piece so deeply that reemerging into the present comes as a bit of a shock. Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) was such a film.  Lincoln lovingly reproduces Civil War Washington: the shadowy realms of candle and gas lighting; the soiled shirts of busy men; the gore of amputations at the army hospital; the mud of a capital city still short on elegance.  The dialog variously amuses, inspires and arouses, without ever seeming stilted, as is so much of the dialog when screenwriters try to put words in the mouths of legendary figures. Utter authenticity is what I believe I saw and heard.

The film appears at an interesting juncture in our history. We are marking the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, a possible motive for Spielberg’s doing it now. The film is, in the last analysis, a meditation on human equality–in the eyes of blind Justice and in the hearts of us all. Opponents of the 13th Amendment expressed fear that African-Americans would win the vote–that they might even serve in Congress. Lincoln and Stevens wanted nothing less. Barack Obama’s election to a second term of residency in the house Mary Todd Lincoln refurbished infuses this meditation with a sense of fulfillment. I for one would have viewed the film very differently had Obama lost.

Leaving the theater and emerging back into the 21st Century, I wondered what is the “worthy cause” in which we should spend ourselves.

Jim Castagnera is the author of nearly 20 books, including Al Qaeda Goes to College; Ned McAdoo and the Molly Maguires ; and the upcoming Counter Terrorism Issues: Case Studies in the Courtroom.

lincoln family 1861

Photograph of the Lincoln Family in 1861

lincoln early

Early photo of Lincoln

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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December 2012



On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory