Fire and Faith: A Sermon about the Valley Fire

fire house

I am writing this as an evacuee from the Valley Fire. This is a draft, so forgive the typos that I’m sure will be here…I’ll get to them later.  I will share this with Galilee Lutheran Church on the third Sunday of October, so would appreciate any feedback you might give.  It’s been a long week. At friends in Santa Rosa, CA.  My husband and I were fortunate.  Both of our houses survived but we have lived through not knowing for most of a week and the stress of getting into a car and running from the fire (we actually had an hour an a half to pack…much more time than others).  My heart grieves for the number of friends and students who lost everything.

There are few sacred texts that have caused more debate than today’s reading from Isaiah. Who is this suffering servant? Most Christians would claim it is Jesus, but Jews would definitely not. What was the author’s intent when he wrote these beautiful words 2,500 years ago? Did he gaze at the ziggarats, temples to the Babylonian gods and goddesses, as he was sitting on a terrace in Babylon at wondering if his people would survive? Would they keep their cultural heritage intact in the midst of the lures of a sophisticated foreign country? Would their children be influenced and forsake their religion by the culture of the enemy that destroyed their kingdom and imprisoned them for the last fifty or sixty years?

It is said that it was the Babylonian exile that ushered a tribal monotheistic faith into true Judaism, a religion ready to claim its place in the pantheon of the great World Religions. In the midst of losing everything, the Jewish people had to define who they were. It is this period that a great deal of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, was written, the synagogues evolved as there was no temple at which to worship, and the Rabbinical tradition began.

There are at least two writers of the book of Isaiah, possibly three. “Second Isaiah” wrote this passage toward the end of the exile, and he certainly lent vision, a sense of mystery, and exquisite imagistic language that was a part of ripening of Judaism. So, as Isaiah sat with his scroll and his stylus was he having visions of Jesus who would live 1,500 years in the future, or did he envision an archetypal pattern for salvation that is a part of all humanity interpreted by him to help his people understand the challenges and hardship they have faced?

We know that as early as the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch asking Philip’s help to discern this passage, say sixty to eighty years after Jesus’ ascension, early Christians were viewing the Suffering Servant as Christ. Philip asks him, “Do you know what you are reading?” and the eunuch says, “How can I unless someone explains?” And so Philip uses the scripture to explain the Good News.

Gerhard Sauter, a German theologian, has written that “Faith does not work like a pair of glasses, however that allows us to decode the text; glasses can be taken on and off. Faith, on the other hand, is constitutive, like the retina, which makes sight possible in the first place.”

Father Leo, Saint John’s beloved priest who passed away last January, would caution us about dualistic thinking. He often said any situation did not lie within the polarities of either/or but rested in the wholeness of both/also. What I think we Christians can be certain of is that the idea of the suffering servant, and all the connotations the image holds, was known to Jesus and the implications of this affected the choices he made in his life.

I used the word “he” for Second Isaiah. Many theologians think the author of Hebrews might have been the Deaconess Priscilla that Paul mentions in his letters on five different occasions. The Greek used in this letter, one of the last parts of the Bible written probably fifty years after Jesus’ time on Earth, is the most nuanced of all New Testament writing. The author was evidently educated and had a sophisticated understanding of Judaism, as well as a profound understanding of the difficulties of living a human life. She, or he, wrote at a time where Christianity was being called into question. Her audience, the small Christian/Jewish church in Jerusalem was about to face a time of trial and persecution, and the dilemma they faced was how to hold onto their convictions, perhaps similar in scope to the Hebrews in Babylon who were convinced they would never see their home again. Some people in the congregation were abandoning their faith.

In the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ time, there was no expectation that God could hold empathy for humankind or that humans could understand God. The author of Hebrews believed that even God’s understanding of humanity could not be complete until God manifested as human and experiencing that there are profound costs to empathy. The author refers to the rituals of the High Priests of the Old Testament as an earthly reflection of Greater Reality. Old sacrifices foreshadow the New Sacrifice to end all suffering in the great scope of time.

Jesus is portrayed as the great single High Priest, appointed like the High Priests of old, as “Son of God” through his resurrection, but also God’s son from the beginning of time. The high priests of the Old Testament belonged to the people, representing their relationship to God. Jesus took our humanity to the ultimate point, suffering, crying for help, going through pain and feeling deserted, and dying. He was broken by affliction, but through this perfected by God and resurrected. The main theme of Hebrews is not the necessity of being morally perfect, but how to face suffering, just what the first readers of this epistle were about to do, to not despair and lose their trust that they had been and would always be loved, and that they were themselves a part of this Divine Love.

In Mark, the disciples are clueless as to the cost of discipleship. They are deep into their own temporal egos as they wonder, “What’s does our encounter with this remarkable man have in it for us?”

They have no idea that Jesus had come to earth to profess the exact opposite of worldly values and how becoming servants who will suffer is the true form of discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran theologian and martyr, who returned to Nazi Germany from the United States because he felt he had to experience its destruction to be a part of its rebirth, wrote that “God allows himself to be edged out both world and on to the Cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which [God] can be with us and help us.”

Perhaps his words are a gift, allowing us a basis to continue our belief in the word we live in today. For a great part of the Western world, religion, and Christianity in particular, is becoming less and less relevant, along with the demise of special privileges for being Christian, or for being white, or for being male, or for being American.

Bonhoeffer felt as the world secularizes, it actually is growing up. And God allows this by allowing us to live without God, allowing us to grow up, allowing us to experience the messiness that the process of maturation must take. God is not a problem solver or a fullfiller of needs. It is not God’s job to keep us safe or to assuage us of our fears. What then distinguishes Christian from non-Christians? It is this: “that men [and women] are challenged to participate in the suffering of God at the hands of a godless world.”

Luther laid the groundwork for this. The meaning of the word God, for Christians, is defined by who Jesus was and the life he led. Jesus was crucified, thus God was crucified. God must be encountered in the Cross. When we think about God and pray to God, we do not need profound theological thoughts, but to focus on that humiliated man on the cross. There is no other God “worth the bother.”

I discovered there is a Lutheran hymn which lyrics profess: “Oh, great distress! God himself lies dead. On the cross he died, and by doing this, he has won for us the realm of heaven.”

As I am writing this, I am exhausted as an evacuee from the Valley Fire, and as I sit here in the kitchen of friends in Santa Rosa, not knowing when I can return home, I’m listening to a program about the disaster that Syria has become. As an evacuee, I have watched the fence being built by Hungary to keep out the hundreds of thousands of refugees trying to flee with their families to safety in Europe and Europe reeling with the implications and complications of this exodus. I am sitting here reflecting that as trying as the last week has been, my fate reflects the fact I was born with the privilege of geography.

I try to reconcile my good fortune. People are saying that it is a miracle that my house on Loch Lomond Road survived when all other structures in the area my house burned. And I say to this: I don’t believe that God saved my house. I don’t believe in a Deus Ex Machina God, one that pulls the strings of our lives. The miracle, in my limited perception. is in God’s patience as our perceptions and compassion mature slowly through tragedy and through love, opening ourselves to the invitation of Jesus to open ourselves to a broken world.

Shortly after second Isaiah wrote of the suffering service, the Hebrew people were delivered back to their homeland by the least expected source, Cyrus the Great of Persia, who conquered the Babylonian empire. The Israelites had to reconcile themselves with their joy of returning home with the fact that God worked through a Gentile to liberate them. The early Christian church’s chances of surviving seemed bleak indeed during the time the Epistile to the Hebrews were written. We need to reconcile the seemingly unending summer of fire, the loss of homes and life, with God’s grace. Both Bonhoeffer and Luther would say that God wants us to be engaged with the world as we realize our utter dependence on Christ. Though God is not a wish fullfiller, “there is no moment of life that Jesus’ word does not have something to say to us.”

Though it may be impossible to detect God in the external world, where to we find them? I’d like to end with this quote from Bonhoeffer: When the Holy Scriptures are brought to life in a church, the Holy Spirit comes down from the eternal throne, into our hearts, while the busy world outside sees nothing and knows nothing about it—that God could actually be found here.

Proper 24

21st Sunday After Pentecost

Isaiah 53: 4-12

Psalm 11 9-16

Hebrews 5:1-10

Mark 10:35-46

The Right Amount of Passion: A Short Story by Kathryn Glass

Scan 46

Day 4 of 5 of HERON’S PATH free Amazon Kindle give away tomorrow! Whoohoo!  Just click and it’s yours!

I waited at the bus stop beneath the haze of three dim streetlights spaced along the street that ran out to the dock where I worked at Intake, welcoming people like me, when this bugger, gray stubble on his face and smelling of weed, walked out of the dark. I pulled my coat tighter as he scrutinized me, and he said after a long moment, “Show me those sick genitals.”

Don’t say it, Lolly, don’t say it, I told myself.

I immigrated here ten years ago when this country was just beginning to open its borders, allowing in the sensitive and scarred, refugees who’d been rejected as not fit enough to continue to live in my own land since the mutations began a generation in the past.

We freaks trickled in and found it not to be the paradise we’d hoped for. They needed our tech-savy, and so tolerated us, but we never were allowed to forget that assimilation was impossible. We exchanged fear for slave wages and were considered almost as repulsive here as back home, but we could at least survive, walk down the street. There were serious repercussions if any of us were killed, and, besides, the populace was sick of bloodshed, even for what was strange.

When I got low, missing the raztazzled hum of my native city, the colorful buildings, the sunny climate, and the rolling brown hills, I reminded myself that I was surviving. You’d think good climate and tech would lead to a tolerant population, but you’d be wrong.

Male and female we were born,” I said, knowing I was setting myself up, knowing what he was likely to do, but the day had been long and I was angry about the traumatic stories I’d listened to all day from the new arrivals. All the norms here had a gleaming about this shibboleth, our freak password; it had been overheard too many times, and I knew it would be the one thing to set him off, but I said it anyway. The chump wouldn’t go for a kill, at least I didn’t think so, but there still was human nature and he could hurt me.

He’d been drinking too. The bus was late, as it usually was. Oh, there was efficiency mixed with intolerance back home and transports ran eletric, and here, fifty years backwards…he scowled more, pure hate in his eyes, enough for me to think he was from back home. He wanted to do me, male or female way, maybe both, until I was hurting, until he knew he’d gotten to the deepest scars that laced me together.

He yanked me hard, pulled me across the pavement, and my back slammed against the lamppost. I managed to kick him good in the shins and was readying my knee to uppercut his normal anatomy, when a shadow covered both of us, me, feeling sick with my arms around my belly, and his half-moon body crooked on the asphalt, when I looked up and saw the grimace of the hulking guy who’d joined our scene, the ugliest man I’d ever seen, and the streetlight was a halo around his head.

There was no way I could defend myself in case he wanted to join in the fun. I inhaled. Held it because his face had the papery texture of mummy’s skin, and his nose had been broken more than once, and his eyes, hollowed slits. More freak than me, I thought, and the creep on the ground moaned and got to his feet, muttering, “You think your safe here, just wait,” before he stumbled away, uttering threats that made me want to curl inward.

But then the other guy asked, “Are you all right?”, and I gasped. His voice. It was a sweet resin, and the timbre chords made from forests and the flow of a river opened my skin and sank down deep, right to the point that love lived in me. The place I’d forgotten because it’d been so battered long past in my other life.

Yes,” I managed to whisper back.

He cocked his head stiffly, almost as though the gesture cost him something physical. He raised his arm slowly and offered me his hand, palm up like he was asking for alms, fingers slowly opening.

Craig,” he said. “A pleasure to meet you.”

I nodded and gave him my name. It felt like a present. “Lolly,” and put my hand in his, touching the callouses and stepped toward him and peered up. 

I never cared for handsome men. I mean in the square-jawed good hair way. Pretty boys do nothing for me. Pretty girls don’t either, to tell you the truth, but I ID-fem, more than male.  We freaks have a range, just like the norms do if they were honest with themselves. I’ve always gone for clothes that flow, softer things, if that makes any sense, and I could pass as a woman, if I wanted to.

 I still could not make out his eyes because they were so recessed; something inside me badly wanted to look into them, to see past his scars and into…forgive me such an extravagance…his nature.  He seemed wooden, and a bit of a beast, physically at least, and I felt our attraction for each other like an electric shock in my body, in that kinky way of kindred spirits have, immediately sensing each other’s worth, digging our ugly selves, the parts still cute and unformed. 

The radio announced that the buses aren’t running,” he said. “Some disturbance downtown, nothing is getting in or out. May I walk you home?”

It was a long way, and we’d be walking until dawn. I told him that I’d be okay, and he didn’t need to take the trouble.

There’s nothing I like more than walking at night.” His voice again, such simple words but with the rush of leaves quivering with the wind inside of them. “I’m not working tomorrow. And, to be honest, I have been wanting to get to know you.”

I’ve worked hard at self-preservation, and I felt prickly, despite the current passing between us, and wished like heck that the bus hadn’t been canceled. Wtf? I thought, I yanked my hand away, and then, with my eyes focused down the street in case he really was mental, you know, in that good first impression psychopathic way, so  I asked, “Are you stalking me?”

No,” he said, and laughed, and he pointed to the battered warehouse across the street. “I just watch to see if you get on the bus okay. My shift ends right after yours.  I’m usually done early before I have to punch out, and I noticed you waiting here awhile back. It’s not safe here, but you know that.”

I nodded, and my gut told me that he was on the up and up. I didn’t tell him he had no idea how safe I really was, one lone creep was nothing next to a whole nation’s hate.

Look,” I said. “There’s this place I’d like to take you to. Feel like going to a jive?”

He agreed with a little pain in his smile and walked stiff-legged.  His gait was uneven, but his legs were long and he kept up with me. Gentleness wafted off of him like a cologne. As we made our way through the industrial maze, he said, “I work at night, the janitor, so I can avoid people as much as possible.”

Why?” I asked, embarrassing myself and him. I needn’t have asked that silly why, but it slipped out from nervousness. We both knew no one likes to be confronted with the hideous; and he clearly was that, on the outside at least.

He politely answered my rudeness. “I have an inherited disease. My older brother had it too.”

Craig told me his name, but there were too many syllables for my foreign tongue to move around, and then he told me how his brother died, not so much from the calcification and the rigidity, but from being shunned, from the fear that passed over people’s faces, from the pain it caused him, inside, matching each knot as it grew on his body.

I wanted to touch Craig and make the pain stop, but all I could do was tell him my own stories because I felt that he’d listen, that he’d get it, even though he just had a penis, and nothing more, and could not understand what it was like to have two natures.

I saw the same thing happen to a couple of friends; they couldn’t stand being so different, how people treated them, and they just gave up.” I didn’t say how close I’d been at times. Without my work, maybe I would have followed them.

We passed a slaughterhouse, getting close to the edge of the slums where the new refugees were sent to live. I talked about my job, how I helped the newcomers even when I was off work. Taught them things like how to survive when the monthly allotment ran out. Dumpster diving was easiest come early Sunday mornings, going to the back alleys behind the restaurants after the excesses of Saturday night; you could feast from the food thrown away. And if you were stealthy enough, you could furnish a flat or fill a closet with what the rich threw out for the garbage truck, but I added, “Getting caught in their districts is the one sure way to be sent home.”

The jive smelled musky, old basement mixed with pheromones. The crisp staccato syllables of my native tongue split the air, and a heavy baseline in the music played beneath the conversations. Eyes were all on us, but he was not normal, anyone could see, and though there was suspicion on the faces of some of the patrons…Craig was clearly a singular male…there was a vibe of sympathy for this sick man, so clear that he, too, was an oddity. Soon, we were almost invisible at our little table in the rear. I bought him a soda when he said he didn’t drink.

I’ve lived on my own for a long time,” I said. “Twenty-seven of my kind gone in the riots the winter I turned 12. My parents couldn’t protect me, and though they loved me, I saw there was always shame behind their smiles.”

I told him that I learned the word p-r-o-p-a-g-a-n-d-a early and saw examples of it, my father explaining, as my family watched the teleV when the power players were interviewed, saw images a child should not see stapled to telephone poles. I can’t even describe them now. And more subtly, the laugh track of the sitcoms, and then faces of my country people hardening, but so slowly that the darkness behind their eyes became what was normal.

How anger grew because we simply existed. I told him my parents paid to get me out when I was fifteen, and that I’d survived ever since in this land where ice falls in the winter, and you swim in the blistering summer air, so far from the warm breezes of home and flowers that bloomed all year.

I survived by staying right here in my head,” I said, tapping my temple, “and not taking chances.” I paused and took a sip from glass. “And by accepting of this horrible climate and your analogue phones.”

I’ve only lived in this city,” Craig said after I was done jabbering. “I admire your pluck. We hear of the sophistication of your culture. You know, a lot of us resent you, not because of your anatomy, but because of what you know.”

I loved how he just came out and said the word. Anatomy. Like it was nothing special. And the rest of what he said about how his country’s people really did resent our presence…I’d only allow myself quick glances of headlines and turned off the radio when I heard the rhetoric.

It can’t get as bad here as it has at home, so tell me about your people’s inability to go for the kill. Isn’t that much more sophisticated?”

Oh, yeah, comes from the potatoes. All that blood in our soil has gotten into our blood, making us pure pacifists.”

He spit out the words “pure pacifists”. I sipped my beer, trying not to rest my eyes on his broken nose.

When we got to my flat, there was just a little line of dawn reflecting off the water under the bridge which we could see on my hill. And there were the first birds lighting the wires above our heads.

It’s getting day,” I said, and I didn’t know how to bring it up, but I’d already made the faux pas over his deformities, and so I thought, what the hell, go ahead and ask it.

Going back to your house, it would be…uncomfortable? With people seeing you?”

I go out in the day,” Craig said. “I have a life.”

I nodded and asked him inside, and as soon as the door closed I kissed him.

I’m a virgin, in both senses,” I whispered, just like that, before I knew what I was saying.

And that’s how it happened. Male to female. Male to male. Both ways I became whole. It wasn’t his first time, which made me a little jealous, but the first with a refugee, and I remember thinking, When love’s there, you only need the right amount of passion.

I started walking to the warehouse after work each night and he’d meet me at the small side door, and I’d swirl in a chair or read a book as he did the last 45 minutes of his shift. Or he’d be already done, and we’d just kiss or play cards until he could punch out. He said I was making him feel better, but how I wished I could touch him and make his skin supple and young, smooth his brow so that his brilliant blue eyes could shine out.  We both assumed I was infertile, 95 percent of us are.

And the weird thing was, he began to get better, the beast part of him rubbing off in miniscule layers. In bed, I liked his soft words and rough skin, but then I’d find flakes of it on our sheets, and I wondered if our love could heal both of us; me inside where I was scared. But one night on a long walk, we came across several copies of the same propaganda slapped helter-skelter on a wall.

A picture of a dark-haired child looked out from each with wide innocent eyes, her dress ripped at the shoulder, and her mother etched behind her holding her head in her hands with the word POVERTY in red print slashed across her chest like a wound. KEEP OUR COUNTRY PURE was written in bold black letters at the top of the posters. SELF-FUCKERS THREATEN YOUR FAMILY AND YOUR FUTURE in a slightly smaller font at the bottom.

More of these appeared over the next few months, flyers with footprints on bus floors, in the gutter, plastered twenty at a time on the warehouse walls, Ones even more graphic appeared, and I get to the place I was as a child and I cannot find the words to describe them. Echos and tones and rememerings of home on the radio and the little teleV that I’d managed to buy my second year here.

I always had an appetite, even in the worse of times, but I suddenly couldn’t eat. I thought it was because of the ugliness in the air. My male parts seemed to not respond as quickly in our love-making, and a constant low grade nausea gnawed at me. I thought it was a virus. I thought it was stress.

One long day in the fall, a day too hot for so late in the year, I had to work double shift with the intake of the largest number of refugees we’d ever received. I held back the nausea, but it was worse than ever. I’d already interviewed nine new arrivals, written their stories long-hand because the juice was too low to use the computers, and they were too old to be much use anyway. Things had worsened back home, camps set up for freaks, the poets disappearing, and there were forced surgeries making us one way or the other, maiming but mostly killing us. All I could think of was to find Craig that evening and hope I could reclaim the parts of myself that evaporated with each tale.

I ushered in a 14 year-old, pointing to the wooden chair and started to ask my questions and to explain about what life might be like for now, my jaws hurting as I forced a sympathetic smile. I knew how scared the child was…after all I’d been this child a decade before. I tried to explain that it was a grayer world here, but safer, but safer…when I knew that I my nausea wasn’t because I was sick. My hands went to my belly. It felt hard, a small mound that had not been there just a few days before filled the cup my palms had made around it.

I dialed Craig as soon as the young man was taken to another dismal room. “Meet me at the jive,” I told him.

As I walked out of the building, I sensed more was wrong, as though the child I carried was telling me there was danger.

Self-fuckers!” norms back home had hurled the word like they might cunt and fag, and now it seemed to be everywhere here. It was impossible to match one’s own sperm to own egg…even if we tried, there would be no conception…but the impossible doesn’t always sing its truth to hatred when hatred wants a taste of blood.

When I told Craig, he stared across the room, the strobe light pulsing against his clenched jaw. I took his hand to kiss it, my fingers first passing over his palm, and I realized I felt smoothness, and when he finally turned to me I saw that his brows were less pronounced, and his eyes larger, and the hard skin of his face had softened.

I’m afraid,” I said.

He put his hand on my belly and a queer look passed over his face. “You can’t have this child.”

A small patch of warmth spread where his fingers had been, and just in that amount of time, he looked more normal, except for his broken nose that I held dear. His skin seemed only mottled, not the texture of a wasp’s nest, but simply thick old paper left out in the rain.

You and I just barely survive,” he said. “The child will be sent back, you along with it. There is only so much my people will tolerate here, and, you should know that.”

My people. Your kind. When had we divided like this, losing the intimacy of freak to freak? I’d purposely avoided reading the print, and had taken to eaten my lunch in my cubicle. Craig was right, of course, and by the end of the month, the government announced no more ferries, and then two weeks later this last large mass of refugees which had not been allowed out of Intake, the ones I personally dealt with, the young one who I knew was the most vulnerable, all gone, sent away, ferried back, or maybe left crowded in the boat at sea.

I refused to find out because what could I do? And then the short talk with my supervisor; severance that would last me a week and assurances that I still had asylum.

I never answered Craig about the baby, and he never said another word about getting rid of it; the longer time passed the more he healed, and I wondered if he saw me with a different lens. But he invited me to stay with him, a refugee with asylum with no way to survive but to hide in the streets without him.

I would wake and see him stand before a mirror in the morning, touching his new skin, but more than once I saw him shiver. He glanced back at me once, and caught me watching him.

You’re not pleased about the new you?” I asked, forcing a lightheartedness he didn’t want.

I walk out in broad daylight, and no one sees me anymore,“ he said. “Existence is so full of what is average. Shouldn’t it break open over and over, mutate, get strange, to make everything new again?”

I didn’t answer him.

I’d go to the warehouse with him at night, worrying over my growing belly and the birth. We’d go to the jive when we could, but fewer of us were there; more heading underground, and they would all stare at his healing, and we saw their fear.

Finally, the bartender gave me an address, a compassionate normal doctor, and then told me to leave and to never bring Craig back. I went to the doctor’s flat a few days later, not telling Craig. After tsking and a shake of a head, hands cupped on my belly, the listening to the little heartbeat, and taking me to a back room where there was a small monitor and nodules to connect me to it, I saw what our passion had made: a small curled doll, a perfect child.

Normal,” the doctor said, and shame washed over me; I didn’t understand how this conception was curing Craig, what miracle interlaced his son with his body and soul, but I was sure the child would not love me. The city seemed even smaller, and I think now that I should have been happy that being alive would be easier for my child than it’s been for me.

Music was playing when I walked in our flat, some of the odd classical stuff Craig liked; I could never keep the composers straight.

You’re home,” he said, and took my hand, both of ours now human and smooth, and I kissed his eyelids, my mouth finding them easy, and wondered if the child would have his blue eyes or my obsidian. And we made gentle love in both ways.

Across the city, the first killings came, amnesia setting in about the horror of murder, the blood phobia slowly dissolving into what really was lying underneath the country’s vows to never take a life again. All the beatings that came so close to killing, the cruelty Craig had endured, were the real truth of the land. The jives were raided and more of us were “sent” away. There was no place to go, either here or back home. The doctor came and delivered the baby. Before he left he whispered that I had to leave the flat as soon as I could. Craig kissed me, and I knew love would kill us all if I didn’t go.

When I could, when night could hide me, I placed my boy on my heart and nursed him for the last time, and looked upon Craig’s handsome face for the last time as he slept. Then I slipped through the door alone and fled into the dark streets that were sweeter than the day.


I wasn’t supposed to preach this until next week, but with the Rocky Fire burning and Highway 20 closed, our priest, Mother Delia, could not make it to church

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

I spent some time as I prepared today’s homily deciding whether or not to talk about our Old Testament reading. If this story could stand on its own along with the story that immediately follows it, in which Elijah experiences God on in sheer silence after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire have passed, I wouldn’t hesitate to weave them into the greater story of our collective lessons for today.

We should all have a ministering angel. There have been times in all of our lives when we could identify with the burned-out Elijah. Wouldn’t it be grand to have an angel to tell us to take care, to offer us sustenance, to kick us in the butt when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves, and urge us to go on a retreat to restore our physical and emotional well-being? But, the back story to all of this is about retribution and revenge, and the commandments of a martial God that orders Elijah to kill his enemies.

Right before Elijah collapses, King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and their god Baal have just duked it out with Elijah and Jehovah. Jezebel has murdered a huge number of Jehovah’s prophets, and eye-for-an-eye, Elijah has just murdered 450 prophets of Baal in return. Ahab says he’s going to seek revenge on Elijah and kill him, so Elijah runs away. When we meet him today, he’s sorely afraid. So, the angel comes, offers Elijah nourishment, and he has a transcendent experience of the nature of God.

I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. God now wants Elijah to go back and slaughter most of Samaria, the stronghold of Ahab, leaving only the 7,000 Israelites who have not bowed down to Baal. The story continues and gets bloodier and bloodier. The worshipers of Baal sacrificed children, and a practiced a whole bunch of other nasty, horrible things. Many people today would say that Elijah’s war was just, and perhaps this is where the relevancy for our times, a lesson to meditate on, comes in. Reading this as history, tribal people appear pulled asunder by their differing visions of macho gods, and doesn’t so much of the conflict in the world still feel this way? Reading the story as religion, though, is, at least to me, disturbing.

Surely God wants us discern when we read the Bible. The only choice I can make is to go back to the two small threads that we can gleam that may point toward the cosmic vision Jesus gives us into the nature of God. God as compassion, offering sustenance to our souls, and God who inhabits not the storms and battles, but in the silence spaces we go to recover.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus mentions God’s provision of manna to the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness after the tumult of the Exodus. After the high they must have felt from leaving Egypt and slavery, they begin to doubt that this really is a good thing after all and murmured about their hunger and dissatisfaction. God answers them with the miraculous manifestation of manna, food that sustains them until their generation passes, the space God requires of the Israelites to make a complete separation between their past and their future.

The word manna may have originated from “man hu” which means, “What is it?” The Book of Numbers compares it to bdelium, a gummy resin related to myrrh. There are also speculations that manna was actually secretions called “honeydew” from certain insects that feed on tamarack trees, which to this day seem like frost in the morning and disappear by mid-day, just as manna was described to do. People, in fact, still eat honeydew and consider it a delicacy.

Whatever manna was, a supernatural miracle that God created on a daily basis, or a more natural one in which the Israelites, with God’s guidance, discovered something already in the wilderness that could sustain them, these people were provided for; but for all of its wonder and the good it did, Jesus points out that these people were long dead. Manna did not provide Eternal life.

The “Jews” whom Jesus speaks to, ask not what is it, but who is he? Before we go on, I want to share something I’ve learned that has helped me find peace with the Gospel of John. As beautiful written as it is, as foundational as it to the Christian faith, this gospel has been misused for generations to fuel hatred. The word “Jew” in the Gospel of John has been used to justify antisemitism throughout the history of Christianity, spurning hatred through vilification in passion plays, justifying Jews being forced into medieval ghettos, expulsions from Spain during the early Renaissance, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust, and lingering resentments and prejudice that still haunt the world today.

But the word used in John was not translated as “Jew” until the 4th century, well after the gospel was written. The original word was closer in meaning to the word Judeans. John’s gospel was written by Jews, and the author contrasts those who challenged Christ as Judeans with the many people from Galilee who may have had a more intuitive understanding of who Jesus really was.

However, to make things a tad more complicated, in this particular scene the word Judean isn’t being literally associated with people from the geographical location; rather it refers to an over-arching world view, one that cast doubt on the fact that Jesus was indeed the incarnation of God. The author cleverly interweaves an allusion to the Jews in the wilderness. These Judeans are “murmuring,” casting doubts and aspersions. They ask, “Isn’t this man the son of Joseph? Don’t we know his mother? How could he claim he came down from Heaven?” These Judean-minded, skeptical, doubting Galileans have a certain intimacy with Jesus’ background.

Since they mention knowing both Joseph and Mary, these may have been some of the same people, maybe relatives and home town people, who tried to throw him off the cliff after he announced his ministry in the synagogue. At best, they are simply not listening, or, more perhaps more duplicity, they are deliberately twisting his words. Jesus actually says that the bread of God comes down from heaven and that he was the bread of life. He says the Father will draw people unto him.

From the cross, Jesus will have the same sort of attractive force, but Jesus threatened the religious establishment, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and many common people who simply could not see past their own preconceived notions. “Anyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me, not that anyone has seen the Father except the one being from God. This one has seen God.” The Greek word for “see” used here is all about impressions of the observer. The word has far more connotations than the simple English word “to see;” it implies “a new heightened perception of reality.” What the author of this gospel implies is that whoever is seeing Jesus, is seeing God. J

esus emphasizes this by saying “Amen, Amen,” translated as “Verily, verily.” This new reality is far beyond a simple acceptance with the mind of doctrine or even an affirmation we may tell ourselves of what we think is true of Jesus, what we believe or don’t believe of the Gospel stories. The original word was actually a verb, best described as “faithing”, a trust beyond words, an whole-hearted embodiment of following Jesus, belief in the life-eternal…in the present tense…life eternal beginning now and going on forever.

The bread that Elijah received from the angel, provided one man the nourishment to change the course of history of the Kingdom of Israel; but after Elijah ate it, it was gone. Manna was likewise a transitory thing. Jesus, though, speaks of his Christ nature that has been a part of Reality from the beginning of time. And how does this Reality change us?

In our short passage today from Ephesians, Paul tells us. We put away our resentments, the duality of our thinking, the separation that occurs because we think there must only be one way, the way our own little Judean ego wants to order the world. We listen and don’t go to war with each other. We bear with each other when we have differences of opinions and ways of seeing; we listen and encourage each other’s “faithings”. We share bread and wine and ask the Holy Spirit to show us what is eternal and true, in the light of Christ that burns in each of us.

I relied extensively on information about our Gospel reading today from (John 6:35, 41-51) John Petty through his blog PR0GRESSIVE INVOLVEMENT. Alethea Eason is a licensed lay minister at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport, CA To be commercial crass…my young-adult fantasy novel Heron’s Path is free through August 5 on Amazon Kindle.

The Scent of Violets


The Scent of Violets

My palms form a tent

over distant cities as I pray

and I want violets to rain down,

and to smell healing oils

instead of sulfur,

and see angels pour the waters of peace

from their place of mythic origin,

no angels on backs of apocalyptic horses,

no plagues, nor rumors of war,

no masquerades of death,

and to hear that myths of sacrifice

are no longer allowed by the laws of Heaven,

the testing of Abraham eased from human memory,

of Isaac in peaceful slumber, no vengeful Lord

waiting to see how far a father will go,

no knife raised above any altar.

no offering of children to slaughter,

no cruel jokes of a jealous god,

not even a scapegoat desired,

and for prayers to rise to Heaven

on the scent of violets and answers given

as rain falls silently to a quiet Earth.

From my chapbook Threshold, Meeting of the Minds Publications

My novel Heron’s Path is free today through August 5th through Amazon Kindle.


Heron’s Path, Day 1, Free August 1-5, Amazon Kindle


Realizing too late my “countdown” is probably confusing.  But anyway, tomorrow the free promotion for HERON’S PATH begins for five days.   If you don’t have a Kindle, no worries.  You can get an app on your smart phone, your tablet, your iPad, your laptop.  There is a plethora of free Kindle books available, many VERY good.

As a writer, I’ve become more concerned with connecting with individuals rather than worrying about “success”.  It’s liberating.  One woman that I know of has read HERON’S PATH in the last year and her encouragement and enthusiasm for the story is the reason why I write, a personal response, giving someone else a few hours in a different reality and, hopefully, a place where he is or she is uplifted in spirit.

To get your copy, click here…but you might want to wait until tomorrow!

Review of In the Land of the Grasshopper Song: Two Women in the Klamath River Indian Country 1908-1909

Alethea Eason:

This book was a major inspiration for my writing Heron’s Path. This is a review I wrote in 2013.

Originally posted on The Heron's Path:

in the landIn the Land of the Grasshopper Song is, hands down, my favorite book, and I have often wished the authors had written more. I found it in a bookstore in Eureka over twenty years ago on a trip that took me through the Klamath River area. At that time I was beginning work on a novel. The power, quiet wisdom, and tolerance of In the Land of the Grasshopper Song inspired my manuscript and, I believe, it became a richer book for reading this fascinating tale.

Two women from the east coast venture in the wilderness of northern California riding on rugged trails to the heart of Karuk culture. Their job was “Indian Field Matrons” and to “educate” the tribe. What happens, though, is that their world opens and they are the ones who receive the education. The writing, taken from journals they wrote during their tenure in the woods, is…

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When Old Woman Got Tired

I wrote several “myths” from the Nanchuti culture in HERON’S PATH.  I wrote this one at a later date, after HERON’S PATH had been published.

A long time ago, Old Woman of the River got very tired. She was tired of always rushing her children down the river, all the fish and all the silt, tree branches and pieces of gold. She decided to stop. Her water froze, the froth of the rapids became little white stars hanging in the air, sun sparks stopped twinkling, and there was only quiet in the forest. The birds stopped flying because they thought the sound of the pounding river was what held their wings in the air. Bear sat heavily on the ground confused. All the weeds and bushes leaned over straining to listen for the mother’s voice. Never had such silence fell upon the forest. Old Woman of the River fell asleep in the quiet day. One by one the fish vanished. Each spark held by the air and water snapped out. Bear’s body slowly dissolved into sunlight. Birds put their heads under their wings because even the sun began to dim. Hanla’chu sat on her hill and watched the world disappearing. She cupped her hands and made a huge cry over the land. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” A startled woodpecker cried out, flew from her tree, and vanished. Hanla’chu saw this happen. She stomped on the ground and caused an earthquake. The mountains rumbled. Panther, who still prowled the forest, growled. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” Hanla-chu yelled. Old Woman kept sleeping, but she turned over and the water of the river rolled with her. One by one the stars where beginning to shine in the sky. Night was coming forever. A wind rushed over the sleeping body of Old Woman. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” Hanla-chu yelled. Hanla-chu took in a deep breath of dark night. She filled her lungs and blew it out with as much force as she could. Deep in her dreams, Old Woman felt cold and began to shiver. One eye opened and she saw it was night. She called for the birds to make the morning but there were no birds to hear her. Old Woman slowly rose and saw what her sleeping had done. “But I was so tired,” she said, and waved her hand. The river began to move again, but there were no fish or pieces of gold or life of any sort within its banks. Panther let out a loud angry growl for he saw that the Earth was dying, and he knew that he too must die. Hanla’chu also cried and her body began to break apart. It became fish and bird and the sparkle of the sun on water. Her head began to burn and slowly lifted to the sky. Her skin became plants and deer and from her breasts all the birds of the forest were reborn. Old Woman of the River thanked Hanla-chu. She flowed on and on forever after this. And no matter how tired she gets, she keeps flowing to the ocean.


Heron’s Path, Day 3, Free August 1st-5th, Amazon Kindle Select


HERON’S PATH is the kind of fiction entire generations once grew up on when young people simply read wonderful, immortal literature that spoke to their hearts, and it wasn’t labeled YA, MG or adult. HERON’S PATH is for the soul in us all–regardless of age–that needs to be reminded regularly that the universe is full of mystery, meaning, courage and love. –Bruce McAllister, The Village Sang to the Sea, A Memoir of Magic One of the questions I am often asked about Heron’s Path is how the Nanchuti, the indigenous tribal group I created for the novel, evolved. As I mentioned in my last post, a trip to the Klamath River while I read In the Land of the Grasshopper Song hit me at such a sensory level that it compelled me to write. My husband Bill and I camped on a sandy bank of the Klamath in one of those weeks in July where the temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. I remember listening to the river, feeling the consciousness of the forest around us, and felt so removed from the modern world. This experience is about as visionary as I get, and I had to make something out of how the river was affecting my body, imagination, and emotions. I naïvely went about reading about the Karuk tribe. I purchased a couple of books I don’t remember now and read as much as I could find by Alfred Kroeber on the Karuk and Yurok ethnic groups. So, a few years passed, and I finally finished a draft of the novel that I thought worth sharing. (For such a short book, it took almost two decades to write, tucking it away for years in between until I worked out various problems. I learned to write with the novel, and I needed a long apprenticeship.) I contacted a professor at Humboldt State, whose name I apologize for not remembering (this was in the 90s!). She was Yurok and invited me to her house to discuss the novel where she very kindly let me know I had no business writing about her culture, telling me that I really could not understand it. So, another year or two passed with fretting about what to do. I wrestled with the idea of creating my own people, how could I meld it with the historical aspects that I did want to portray? Would an alternative California work? The elements I did keep from my original manuscript were the ideas of the doctors, medicine people, and sacred dancing that, to the best of my understanding, the Karuk did to create balance with nature. Again, apologies if this is not correct. I confess I stole the idea of the Baby Growl straight from In the Land of the Grasshopper Song. Last spring I read from Heron’s Path on a public radio station. The only response I got was from an angry woman (who said she was not Native American) upset that I would dare to write about Native Americans. I had already hung up and couldn’t respond that the point of my creating a mythic tribe was because I did not want to do any washee (Nanchuti for “white people”) misguided writing about aspects of a culture I do not belong to. All I can say is that I fell in love with the stories and information I read about the Yurok, and though their culture is the seed from which the Nanchuti grew, they are MY creation. One last thought: Kroeber’s daughter, Ursula Le Guin, was a very strong influence on me as a young writer. I devoured her work long before I ever heard of her famous parents. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber wrote Ishi: the Last of His Tribe, which chronicled the life of the last member of the Yahi tribe. So, a large part of the spirit of Heron’s Path is in debt to her, especially the book Always Coming Home. It gave me the courage to create a language for the tribe, a process that I really enjoyed.

Heron’s Path Day 4 Free August 1st – August 5th, Amazon Kindle Select


HERON’S PATH is a beautiful read. I was swept away by Alethea Eason’s rich and beautiful evocations of the natural world.               

-Bruce Coville, author of MY TEACHER IS AN ALIEN and ALWAYS OCTOBER

A post from February 2012:

I would walk on the dock at Innisfree and look out at the great bowl of Clear Lake. The water would slap at the dock, the tules would sway between the pillars, a wind ruffle small waves. I would hear life everywhere. Bullfrogs in the rushes, ducks chattering as they bobbed up and down, grebes farther, their miniature necks shaped like the Loch Ness Monster until they would dive down and shake their butts like cartoon birds. And once in a blue moon, I would see a heron wading in the tules near the boathouse, a small rickety apartment made from a wooden fishing boat. The birds looking like sorcerers in gray and coal blue feathers. My Pomo friends have told me stories of beings that live in and near the lake. The Squishy, a creature they could hear rise from the lake when they were children, the Bird Man that appeared to their nephews outside their bedroom when they lived in Clearlake. When the boys described him, the family knew who they were talking about. My herons would always surprise me, and sometimes, I’d see them more than once while they were hanging out for a week or two. And what a joy to see them cast off from the ground, a different creature even then, more pterodactyl than bird. At times, I have seen them fly low near Rodman’s Slew as I drove along the cutoff. I have decided I haven’t had enough mornings like this. So much of life gets stuck in the day-to-day of work and of “reality,” Amazon rainforest producing more carbon than oxygen, quagmires around the world, the moral sickness of so many politicians. We all need healing, from trauma, from traumas generations past, from the grinding down of our souls with media and the white noise of the 21st century. A glimpse of a heron is a miracle to me.

Heron’s Path Day 5, Free August 1st-5th, Amazon Kindle Select


Reading HERON’S PATH brought me close to my own source of spirituality. The writing feels true, mythic, and connected to the eternal. Katy’s discovery of her power and connection to the divine makes the reader yearn for the same.

-Lesley Downie, Chaos Cave and Tunnels

Celeste, the ethereal sister,  deluded by the evil wei-ni-la, encounters these dark spirits who do not want the Old Ones to return to their home because it will be the end of their existence.

We found her huddled like a small rabbit next to a fallen tree, her clothes flung over branches and ferns, her pale body shimmering in the moonlight.  Before we could step closer, though, a howl tore through the woods; its tone felt like acid on my skin.  Then a blast of air hit us hard, and the moon was suddenly eclipsed.  The roar drowned Celeste’s song.

But the louder the wailing became, the less scared Celeste seemed to be.  Her head came up, as though she were watching for something.  The trees moaned as though they were being pulled out of the ground, and yellow shadows merged from them, poisonous clouds surrounding Celeste.

“You’re here,” she said, in a high voice.  “I didn’t like being alone.”

She’s talking to us, I thought, and started to answer, but Matai shushed me.

“The wei-ni-la,” he said in my ear.  I tried to run over, but he caught hold of me.  “If we go any closer, they’ll take us,too.”

Celeste reached out.  A shadow floated toward her.  She touched it like it was a priceless piece of cloth she wanted to adorn herself with.

Closer to the Spirit


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