Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Righteous Gentiles

Many people have heard of Oskar Schindler thanks to the movie about him.  He is one of The Righteous of the Nations, or Righteous Gentiles.  But he is only one of at least 23,000 people who took the risk of hiding Jews during World War II.  I have spent a good part of this morning reading the stories of these people on various web pages (Google "Righteous Gentiles" for those).

For the most part, people took in one or two Jews, many of them children.  In one instance, two sewer workers in Warsaw managed to hide twenty-one people in the sewers, ten of whom survived the war.  These two men not only took care of the living but also buried those who died.  They and their wives made sure that the people in the sewer had food.

Maria Althoff and her husband, Adolf, hid a family of Jews in their circus.  (Picture from Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel)

The Episcopal Church has provisionally included the Righteous Gentiles on the calendar of lesser feasts and fasts (now called Holy Women, Holy Men).  The first reading for this day is the story of Joshua sending spies into Jericho where Rahab hides them from the men of the town who wish to kill them.  The gospel is John's account of Jesus standing before Pilate and the chief priests crying out for his death.  Two stories of people whose lives are threatened by the existence of others, the responses are polar opposites.  Rahab saves lives, the chief priests were willing to give up Jesus' life to save - they hoped - their own.

What would we do?  Fortunately, we are not in the same situation as the people under Nazi rule were so we don't need to make sure we have secure hiding places in our homes.  But we live at a time when many of the laws passed by our state and federal governments are oppressive, particularly for those who are already in distress:  the poor, the elderly, children, illegal aliens (many of whom came to this country because businesses were glad to get cheap labor).  We often respond to these laws with a "there's nothing I can do about it" attitude.  I believe many citizens of Nazi-occupied countries said the same thing.

So what can we do?  First, we need to be more aware of what's happening at state and federal levels.  Second, we need to talk with friends about what's happening.  And, finally, we need to write letters and make phone calls.  If we are not in agreement with our legislators, they will never know unless we tell them.

The Righteous Gentiles were activists, rebels, unwilling to do nothing.  They have set us a good example.  Are we willing to follow it?

Monday, July 1, 2013

This little light of mine...

About every two years, my sister, brother-in-law and I travel to Europe, mostly Italy and France.  Part of our ritual is lighting candles in all the churches we visit.  There, we say prayers for those back home, give thanks for our journey and for those we have met on that journey.  There is something peaceful about this kind of prayer.

As you can see, lighting candles is very popular in Europe even though you are expected to purchase your candle (about $1.35 usually). This particular candle stand is in the cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille.  I watched a young man bring his daughter to this stand, help her light her candle and kneel down next to her to say prayers together.  This in a country where religion is supposed to be dead.

In most of our churches, we have no place to light candles other than those we use in our liturgies.  Often, people see it as a Roman Catholic practice only and don't want to be too "popish" to introduce the tradition to their own parish church.  But I think we would do better to promote lighting candles.  It is a tremendous outward and visible sign of our belief that God hears our prayers and even answers them.

On this last trip, I included a prayer for myself every day.  I have been struggling for the last nine months with a question of vocation.  Is God calling me to stay in my parish or should I move on?  Upon returning home, I walked into St. Christopher's and was overwhelmed with the knowledge that I was home, that this is where I belong.

We all pray.  Some have times of day set aside for spending time in prayer.  Others are less disciplined but no less serious about speaking with God.  Like many priests, my prayers go on most of the day as I encounter people and situations that require conversation with God right that minute.  Every day ends in prayer, too.

But I have discovered - or perhaps finally noticed - that there is something about lighting a candle and taking a few moments to stand in its light while offering up thanksgivings, petitions and intercessions.  I can't really describe it; I can only suggest that you try it.

I have found a place in my house and the perfect table upon which to set up my candle.  I'm thinking of adding an icon - most candle stands in European churches are in front of an altar or statue - and maybe a picture or two of my family.  Then, once a day, I plan to spend a few minutes lighting my candle, saying my prayers and watching the flame.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Whose fault??

Isaiah 59:1-4

See, the Lord's hand is not too short to save,
   nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
      between you and your God,
   and your sins have hidden his face from you.
For your hands are defiled with blood
       and your fingers with iniquity;
   your lips have spoken lies,
       your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one brings suit justly,
       no one goes to law honestly;
   they rely on empty pleas,
       the speak lies,
   conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.

Do you remember Flip Wilson's famous line:  "The Devil made me do it!"  We always want to blame someone else, don't we?  Frankly, I am weary of it.  How much better it would be if we admitted our errors/sins.  Just imagine if honesty was the "go to" position rather than the "fall back" plan.

I have told my share of whoppers in order to cover up what I have done or not done.  Alas, I do not have a poker face so it has rarely worked.  Admitting my mistakes certainly isn't always easy but it usually leads to reconciliation.  It mostly depends on how quickly I admit the fault.  The longer I wait, the angrier the person has time to become and anger seldom fades quickly.

There's a reason Jesus included "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" in the Lord's Prayer.  We need to ask for the barriers to come down daily.  God does not hide God's self from us but, if we are not willing to admit to the barriers, God won't help us take them down.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Psalm 103:10-12
 The Lord does not deal with us according to our sins,
   nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
   so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
   so far he removes our transgressions from us.

This is an incredibly comforting passage expressing a deep faith in the love for forgiveness of the Lord.  The description of that love and forgiveness is as high and as wide as the psalmist can imagine.  God is that passionate about us!

But even as I read this incredible statement, I am struck by two things.  The first is that we don't always want to be separated from our sins.  Sometimes we have rationalized ways to hang on to them. 

"I tried not being catty but my mind still thinks catty thoughts so I guess I'll just always be catty.  Nothing I can do about that." 
"I would love to lose weight but I just love to eat too much." 
"I know best; everyone else will have to come around."
"I'm a real sinner.  I've done things not even God could forgive."

Do you suppose we hang onto these things because we think they don't really hurt us or perhaps because we aren't sure we can handle God's unconditional love and forgiveness?   To be willing to open ourselves up to God in a way that allows that unconditional love to bathe every corner of our lives is scary.  But don't we crave that very thing?  Aren't we desperate for someone to love us, warts and all?  I wonder.

The other thing is that the psalmist seems to be saying that the Lord has judged us and found no compelling evidence to cast us out.  Why, then, do we insist on casting out others, particularly on the Lord's behalf?  Why do we turn to the same Bible that tells us of unconditional love to justify denying love entirely?

I believe God forgives us our sins if we are willing to let them go.  God may forgive them even if we aren't willing!  If I can believe that my sins are forgiven, why should I have a problem with God forgiving the sins of anyone/everyone else?  I really can't go there.  I hope you can't, either.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Coming down to the wire

April 20 and 21

Saturday was our big rain day.  So what do you do when it’s raining outside?  You go to a museum.  Granted, most people look for one nearby but Kathy, Bev and I headed for the Fondation Maeght just north of Nice.  This a private collection opened to the public.  There was an exhibit of artist Gloria Friedmann’s work.  We agreed that her paintings (a whole series named LSD1, LSD 2, etc.) were more than a little dark, combining animals and humans in odd ways.  But her sculptures were interesting.  My favorite was a man all in white.  In his outstretched hands, there was a long “necklace” of keys and in the middle of his forehead was the lock.  I loved that one.

Other artists were Joan Miro, Giacometti, Fernand Leger, Chagall, Calder and some others I have never heard of.  It was a very interesting hour and a half.  Then we tried to find a place to eat, missed the turn to the closest village, stopped for gas at the bottom of the hill, missed the turn for the interstate and went to Nice!  Everything you have ever heard about the color of the water on the Cote d’Azur is absolutely true!  Gorgeous blues and greens with scattered white caps.  The wind had blown all the clouds away and the sun was out.  We ate a ridiculously expensive lunch in a hotel facing the water.  The view was well worth it.

And then we drove home.  Finding the right way to go with a GPS that asks questions in French was harder for some reason this time.  Needless to say, we spent about 45 minutes going in wild circles until I conquered the GPS.  We saw some areas of Nice and St. Laurent du Var that the guide books don’t mention (although not scary).  We did manage to bypass the really narrow “shortcuts” the GPS is fond of – we’re talking two-way roads that aren’t really one way in width – and we finally figured out how to tell it we were happy to pay tolls if it meant we could get home in 2.5 hours rather than 5 hours.  Also by going west rather than east and north.  Yes, it was the craziest the GPS has ever tried to make us.  Kathy was an absolute brick through the whole thing, driving wherever I sent her even when we both knew it didn’t seem right.

And home we came.  Lee spent the day resting and catching up on his documentary.  We brought home the goodies to make another frittata, this time with mushrooms, ham, cheese and red peppers.  As usual, there was good wine and nice chocolate to finish off the meal.

This morning, Sunday, we got up leisurely and wandered down to the market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue again.  We all went and we all had a good time buying fun things for ourselves and others.  Eventually, we sat down for lunch and had a delightful young waitress who is headed to the States in two weeks and wanted to practice her English on us.  And the food was fabulous, right down to dessert! 

I had read about the church in Isle and suggested we head that direction and give it a look.  The church was finished in 1222 but the inside was redone inside in the 17th century.  So there’s this rather plain edifice.  Then you open the door and walk straight into the baroque!  And it was beautifully done.  We will go back tomorrow afternoon.  There was a statue of a saint that I cannot identify – I know, there are way too many for anyone to keep straight but this one looked like someone we should know.  The man was wearing a short military cape over a Roman-style toga.  His hat was round and hanging by a cord around his neck.  The really strange part of the statue was the dog sitting up at his feet, offering him a loaf of bread!  I’m stumped.  He also had scallop shells on each shoulder like epaulets.  Some research will be required.

Among our purchases today were another chicken, provencal potatoes, spinach pizza (more quiche) and a lemon meringue pie.  How balanced a dinner is that?!

And now the discussion has turned to retirement and insurance policies and healthcare.  It is friendly, thanks be to God, but I decided it was time to retire to a neutral corner. J  Soon, we will all retire to our various books and go to sleep.  But first, I am going to do the dishes.

Every time we make a meal here, I remember what our Untours host told us at our orientation meeting:  “Your hosts love you because American tourists clean up after themselves and eat out.”  Well, we do clean up after ourselves but we haven’t eaten but about three dinners out and we eat breakfast in every morning.  So we have done a lot of dishes, broken a few glasses and replaced them all. 

A bientôt and sleep well.

PS  I didn't tell you about our dinner in Chateauneuf du Papes.  First, when we left our gite, it was very windy and threatening rain still.  The GPS took us uphill and down dale and around at least one Robin Hood's barn and gave up giving directions before we got to the restaurant.  Fortunately, we began to see signs for the chateau and then for the restaurant - Les Vergers de Chateauneuf.  We were the first diners to arrive and had the staff of four waiting on us with grace and pleasure - two spoke some English so we had conversations as well as service.  Bev told our headwaiter that it was my birthday and it turns out his birthday was the next day.  So we exchanged birthday wishes - bonne anniversaire - before sitting down.  The wine was very good and reasonably priced (hard to come by in Chateauneuf).  All of the food was excellent.  For dessert, which none of us really had room for, the three ladies ordered a meringue filled with lemon sorbet and covered in whipped cream.  We did ask if we could skip the whipped cream and the young lady said, "I couldn't ask him to leave off the whipped cream."  So we had the whipped cream.  And the headwaiter placed an amazing sparkler in mine that went on forever - okay, only two minutes.  After all that, we took a different, less twisty route home, one that wouldn't shake anyone's dinner too much. ;-)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Two grand days

April 18 and 19

Yesterday, Bev took the day off, being still worn out from driving the long trip to and from – not to mention around – the Gorges du Verdon.  So Kathy, Lee and I set off for Les Baux without her.

Les Baux was once an impressive fortress/town essentially carved out of the mountain.  It dates to the 800’s and some of the stonework has been dated to 60 B.C.E.  Les Baux is still a soaring monument to man’s ingenuity and creativity.  It is obviously an ideal class trip site – there were at least three there yesterday – so they have demonstrations of old weapons and old games available.  Less interested in the weapons, Kathy and I watched some kids playing the games.  I could identify precursors of skittles, pinball (really!), ring toss and cornhole – this last had overtones of skee ball, too. 

The way to the castle is the village.  While the construction is quite authentic, the village’s sole purpose is to part people from their money.  Aside from restaurants and sandwich shops, there are all the wooden swords and shields anyone will ever need along with the usual Provencal mementos – soap, sachets of lavender, magnets, postcards and funny round towels with a loop in the middle for hanging it up.  There was a sweet shop and Kathy and I both bought cookies.  I’m still longing for a good ginger snap or oatmeal raising one. ;-)

After lunch, we drove home and spend the rest of the day there.  Bev and Kathy went to the grocery store to get asparagus and risotto for dinner so we had another good feast.  They bought ice cream, too, to go with the cookies but we haven’t delved into that yet.  We did wipe out the brioche at breakfast this morning, though.

The destination du jour was Roussillon, one of my very favorite towns in Provence.  In fact, we think it is the one we would live in if we were to live in Provence which is, of course, not very likely.  This village is the site of ochre production on a large scale until World War II when, apparently, the color went out of style.  I rubbed my fingers in some sand lying on a wall and they came away orange so there’s still a lot of ochre to be had here.

While most of Provence’s buildings are cream to a dark tan, Roussillon is anything but.  The varying shades available from the ochre range from a dark orange, almost red, to pale yellow.  And always the Provencal blue shutters are present.  We saw a wonderful dark green door today that really set off the ochre.  Houses built of stone have reddish hues in the rock and, of course, the mortar is also orange/red.  Only the church is out of character in this respect, tending more to the dark tan.

But this is one of my favorite churches.  The building is Romanesque and the altar is Rococo!  While it is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, the painting over the altar is the annunciation.  There is a wonderful modern painting of the Nativity that I had a terrible time photographing the last time we were here.  I did a little better this time but the yellow in the picture tends to blow the flash of the camera. 

We had a really terrific meal at the same restaurant we ate at last time.  So far, it is the best meal out. 

The last thing I expected to do today was shop.  But shop we did!  There was a store across from our restaurant that had these really great scarves and purses and, for me, lightweight cotton blouses that will be stunning with a clergy shirt underneath.  I bought three, pig that I am.  Then, as we left the church, we turned uphill to see the view except we found a ceramic store we hadn’t remembered.  Yes, we all bought ceramics and would have shipped them home but the cost was about half of what each piece we bought cost.  So they are carefully wrapped and I now have to look for a larger bag than the one I bought in Arles to bring home breakable stuff.  What a hardship! :_)

It is afternoon here and we have all had a refreshing cup of tea with a cookie or two.  I have also had a nap, equally refreshing.  We cut short our plans for the afternoon – Gordes and Les Bories – because it began raining and turned very chilly.  This evening, we are still planning to return to Chateauneuf du Pape for dinner.  I do hope it will be inside!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Picture time!

Here is the river Sorgue as seen from our lunch spot.  The Fontaine du Vaucluse is way up this gorge.

The water is rushing downstream.  

And here is the Fontaine.  No one knows how deep that hole is.  The last time we were here, Lee hiked down into that hole about 30 feet.  No so this time!

I got these pictures a little out of order.  This is the Alps as seen from Mont Ventoux.  If we had been able to go all the way to the top, we would have been able to see the Pyrenees, too!

This is typical of the country where we are.  I took this on the way up Mont Ventoux.

This is the top of of Mont Ventoux.

This is in the cathedral in Malaucen.  Of all the religious art we have seen, this is my favorite.  It really speaks to me.

This is the Pont d'Avignon as seen from the Popes' gardens.

I haven't said much about the flowers and gardens.  This is just one of many we have seen and oohed about.

The ligustrum is in full bloom.  

More interesting that the Roman theater in Orange - at least to me - are the pieces of fresco they have managed to find.

A wall mosaic from the theater.

Everyone loves griffons, right?

This is my favorite altar so far.  It's in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Nazareth and all Saints in Orange.  I am hoping Lee got a better picture of it.  The altar is a striking shade of aqua.

I've always wondered how Mary can look so serene while stomping on a snake!

Floor mosaic in the Cathedral.

An icon of St. Eutrope, an early bishop.

This is at the end of a building in Arles.  Art is everywhere!

And this is the Roman amphitheater in Arles.  They have bullfights here and have added lots of seating inside.

Her name is Mang and the people she allows to run her cafe make wonderful food and ice creams.

It wouldn't matter how close I had gotten to this piece, you still would have had a hard time distinguishing the contents as the skull of St. Antony of the Desert, probably the best known of the Desert Fathers.  I have no idea what he is/was doing in Arles.

The plane trees lining the road.  It reminds me of Oak Alley in Louisiana.