Sunday, January 31, 2016

dokein: seeming

At 3:26 the coffee and bit of chocolate that seem like lifesavers may not in fact be, but seeming is most of life. What seems. 

A freighter arrived early yesterday evening, one with superstructure and bridge at the bow, why? Seems odd

My study of ship design would rank after the writing of Nikolay Andreitch with the violent temper whose dissertation topic is the past and future of the dog license. Every morning after coffee he sits out on the balcony with a clean, blank sheet of paper and writes the title at the top before being distracted.

Life seems Good because Blue Bell ice cream returned to grocery store shelves this week.
It’s all good, but our flavor is homemade vanilla because it seems like what perfected a summer day when, as children, we opened the hand cranked ice cream freezer. To my children looking back on midlife, it seems like what we made with sweetened condensed milk the first day of a heavy snow —“snow cream” — a highlight of living in Rhode Island, WashDC, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. 

Midlife was the forties, wasn’t it. Seems so, thirty-nine through forty-eight. At the end of 48 we moved from Pennsylvania home to the Florida panhandle and midlife crisis resolved itself into the 1900 rectory of a lovely old historic small town parish. How small was it? Population 2,500 for a century or more. The preceding ten years was a long midlife crisis and not at all what it seemed as a-whole-nother life opened onto a park overlooking John Gorrie's grave. Double the numbers and it’s called an existential crisis. Why am I here, not why alive or something about when the universe stops expanding, but what if I had taken the road before which Robert Frost long stood then took the other. What if? 

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

Eighty is ages and ages thence, the new bridge and the interstate went through decades and decades ago, and the existential crisis is that the Jamestown Ferry and the road not taken no longer exist. Neither does the young officer candidate in the sailor suit.  

Jeremiah’s call story this morning. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel …

Thos+ out of gas somewhere down the road

If my this morning's nonsense seems to make sense, dear reader, perhaps you need to make an appointment and come in for pastoral counseling

Saturday, January 30, 2016


1 Corinthians 13 (RSV)

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


love, benevolence, good will, esteem; kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration, generosity, respect, lovingkindness ... 

Ten and a dozen years ago, our theme for religious classes at Holy Nativity Episcopal School was agape. Love that is agape. Over a course of three years, our foundation was modern fantasy fiction stories, books, movies: The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter. And after reading a Time magazine cover page article about teaching thirteen-year-olds, I started bringing a snack every day. Fresh, warm donuts, different kinds of fruit, popsicles and ice cream on a stick, sliced vegetables and dips, a round of something different each day. I identified the treats to them as agape, my love for them that was “love is not a feeling, it’s how you treat other people.” 

We adopted the NT Greek word ἀγάπη as our byword those years, the students learned the word and its meaning, middle-schoolers would rattle off definitions of ἀγάπη in class, in chapel. Every class session centered on recognizing agape in whatever we were reading or watching or discussing, and there was “homework” to recognize agape at home and wherever the students were, and for those who wanted to, to tell about it in class.

As we watched movies of the stories of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling, I would stop the film at the end of sequences or in the middle, and ask, “Where was God in that?” and “What was agape in that?” So that as well as enjoying the story, they were watching for what was important to us. 

Of all the things I have done in life, those years with those children, those students, stand out as the highlight. In all my years, nothing I have ever done has been as rewarding and gratifying to me. And even if those students, all of whom have now gone on through highschool, college, some married, into careers, even if they do not remember our class sessions and years as I do, my prayer is that there will always abide in each mind the knowledge of what love is. As I loved each of them dearly and even as my very own, I tried to show them and help them learn that love is kindness to each other and especially to those around the world whom they would never see, meet, know. All the way through life, Love is what matters.

ἀγάπη: loving your neighbor as yourself and respecting the dignity of every human being

20160130 Sunrise from 7H

Friday, January 29, 2016

Time To Walk It Off

Some people, I was one, whose politics floated back and forth and back again in the course of my life. Not unlike my theology or theologies, in fact I remember a question on the General Ordination Exam the year I took it, I think it was December 1982 but it may have been January 1983, asking whether my theology was settled and fixed, or still forming. Until the moment, it hadn’t especially occurred, but I answered truthfully that it was still forming. And as I look round inside my slowly liquifying brain I realize that “still forming” is still the answer. My only rule, and like all rules I consider even it violable, is that I’m absolutely certain of nothing. But then, what Lewis calls The Tao, which is about common human decency. And I appreciated a quote for the day that appeared, I think it was this week and could easily check but am too lazy to look it up, in Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day, from Somerset Maugham asserting the weakness of any man who is proud of never changing his mind. Something like that. My mind changes in the midst of certitude all the time.

But it started about politics even though I avoid the topic like cracks in the sidewalk.

It was occurring to me this morning that most of the people I started out life with were born and raised in the 1800s. Including my father’s first two siblings, Carrie and Alfred, both buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Pensacola. All four grandparents, of course, born and grew up in the nineteenth century, after the Civil War, which tuned their political certainties. My early years, most everyone around here was and voted Democrat, and general elections up to and including state level were really decided in the Democratic primaries. That was shifting by the time I was grown, and my second quarter-century or so was Republican. As well as convictions, a certain smugness attached to it, and my favorite TV program for years was William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line,” with the man and his exquisite vocabulary and accent. Early forties though, I was disgusted with the incomprehensible stupidity of President Reagan, for whom I had confidently voted and Nixon and Goldwater before him, sending Marines to Lebanon in 1983, and then so horrified and outraged at him at the bombing of the incompetently guarded and protected Beirut Barracks, totally and unequivocally his responsibility for having sent them there, that the next day I went down to the election office in Harrisburg and changed my registration back to Democrat. 

Still a floater. I'll vote for whomever I DWP. The debate last night was noticeably interesting in that the volume, in quantity but not in decibels, of hot air was substantially reduced from the center of the podium. But then, we can’t expect candidate hopefuls to be smooching each other on the backside especially now in the stretch. And they weren’t. But there was one particular very important question to which the answer was a burst of boisterous mealy mouth spouting waffling say-nothing unanswered that I will never vote for that one no matter what. What and who? Never gardenia mind. 

Here’s what I’m seeing in American politics anymore, another quote for the day from Anu Garg:

Love, friendship, respect, do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something. -Anton Chekhov, short-story writer and dramatist (29 Jan 1860-1904) 

Speaking of which/whom, whoever hasn’t read any of Chekhov has missed part of life. It’s been years, but I remember some as chillingly, depressingly real.

Pax anyway

Time to go walk..


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hello, Suckerrrr!!!!!

Putting Up an Impressive Front
Son of a Verse

“Watch his face! - - Hello, Suckerrrrr!!!!” he shouts at his neighbor, waving out the driver’s window as he rides his family around the block in the sparkling AMC Ambassador sedan the salesman has brought out for them to see, drive, ride. Everyone in the car laughs at the neighbor as his mouth drops open and his eyes pop wide at the elegant, obviously very expensive new car.

Staring after them, stunned, the neighbor doesn’t know that it’s a dealer demo, or that, as the commercial will make clear though we do not want the neighbor to know, the price is actually very reasonable. But also, it hasn’t yet occurred to the driver that now he has to buy the car or the whole neighborhood will know he's a blowhard.

Someone wrote about this not long ago, which was when I realized what’s going on with social media. The need to hustle about, post only beaming faces, and make sure everybody else sees that one is doing super-excellent. Beautiful and brilliant kids, happy family, incredible career success, perfect state of mind, enviable vacation, all the best things coming together in one’s life, gorgeous home, stylish clothes, perfect relationships with other people. 

At first I think it’s a crock that’s perpetuated in the digital age, but then I remember the 1967 AMC television commercial in which the car salesman shows up at the family’s home with the brand new Ambassador 990 sedan for them to drive, and they can’t wait to get it out on neighborhood streets for the neighbors to see and envy.

We read on Facebook and other social media how well everyone else is doing. We wonder why life is making such a mess dragging us through the swamp and running from the snakes and alligators that we have to exaggerate, lie online. I’ve wondered if swallowing the false evidence that everyone else is doing so much better than we can ever hope to do contributes to depression, despair, and suicide around us? It certainly contributes to our unwillingness to tell the truth.

At clergy gatherings I always found the boasting over-ripe about how stupendously one’s own parish is prospering, or at least how promising and growing week by week. When I was in the Navy, an officer would never dream of sharing his problems with another officer, and much less, never, never, never let one’s commander know one was having problems. It might affect one’s standing in the perpetual jostling for top ranking among one’s peers on the fitness report. 

And those of us who are fighting within our own beings, battle of the mind and keep the world from knowing. How can I overcome this. Maybe take a different route to the office, I did that this morning, and there’s a For Sale sign in front of my beloved family homestead. A year or so ago I wrote that a loneliness, an incredible sadness had filled my house. Alfred. My grandparents sold the old place. My parents tried to sell it at least once, I think twice. My selling it and moving on. But I haven’t, have not moved on: it’s still there, down the street from 7H, neighborhood so filled with memories that at times I can hardly bear driving through it, by it, past it.

Maybe if I stop playing Chopin’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 1 in E minor, op.11, “Romance: Larghetto” and skip to Track 3, “Rondo: Vivace.” 

My all-time lifetime favorite office: a tiny space on the 0-1 Level of a WW2 destroyer. Second favorite perhaps, a block back from the Gulf of Mexico, open the door to let in the breeze, smell the salt air, hear the surf's roar.

Long years retired, the entrance to my office. 

Just so, in the light beyond the 15-light french door: new, My Laughing Place. I'm loving it.

But ... return home by another way.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It was a very good year

Wednesday morning, life seems to be flying by. Never to be morbid, but at this age one is well aware that …  But for now, fine and loving most every minute. Most? Yes, I’m noticing that there are fewer Cove School classmates than when we were there together. 

A Monday or Friday morning some weeks ago, as we were walking down the Bay-side sidewalk on East Beach Drive, the stretch between Cherry Street and Tarpon Dock Bridge, Robert mentioned that he has a picture that shows himself dancing with a girl at The Hangout. We stopped while he tried to find it on his iPhone, but it didn’t immediately appear, so he promised to find it and post it on Facebook. That happened yesterday, along with more than a hundred other memorable shots. I dragged several of them off, pics that stirred the most for me. People talk about the stress and strain of being a teenager, but I seem to have shunted aside the bad parts and clung only to the good memories. All but the time we were in Tallahassee on a Band Festival trip, staying in a hotel downtown, and Tally Bloodworth slammed open the bathroom door and snapped a photo of me stepping out of the shower. The best part of teen years was growing from child to adult 6' 1" height the summer between my freshman and sophomore years, next maybe was falling in love for the first time, the next best part was graduating high school, going off to university and becoming my own person. The worst part, well I’m still letting go of that.

Every Sunday after my turn in the pulpit, I type and edit my sermon, and post it on my blog. This past Sunday I was too exhausted for some reason, or maybe it was the glass of red upon arriving home from church. Wine is a depressant, I know, but instead it inclines me to a long nap, and I didn’t get to the sermon until a day or so later. Right after I was ordained, the rector of my “field parish” told me that he had always printed his sermons and put them in the “sermon rack” in the narthex, and that I also had to do that. So for thirty something years I’ve retyped and printed every sermon, though recently I’ve started just posting online and tossing the hardcopy, no printing. At any rate, although I did not post it on Facebook, last Sunday’s sermon is online at should anyone be interested in reading it. It’s a bit embarrassing, makes me feel foolish, elevates my self-consciousness every time I tell parts of my Call Story, but part of this vocation is being what St. Paul calls “a fool for Christ.” I didn’t realize until sometime the next day that the storm in which I wrote the sermon/homily was apparently during the passing of a collapsing but very bright and noisy waterspout outside my Bay window, that had set off a tornado warning. 

There are other things that I’d thought to say this morning, but in the course of this stroll I’ve wandered too far and don’t remember them. Except that bright parts of my teenage years had to do with cars I drove. Blue 1942 Chevrolet Fleetline. Black 1936 Pontiac coupe. Silver 1937 Chevrolet truck. Don’t remember whether I drove our 1937 GMC truck or not; both it and the ’37 Chevy had been WW2 army ambulances before my father converted them into trucks for long distance hauling seafood. They had a huge red snapper painted on each side of the body, painted realistically and artistically by a commercial artist who had six fingers on each hand, remember him, Walt? Red 1947 Dodge truck. 1948 Dodge, green Custom sedan; bought in May 1948, it was mama’s birthday present, and she and I went down to the train station, walked up on the ramp, and chose the green one over the blue one, both still on the box car, given to me my senior year in college. Red 1948 Dodge truck. Red 1949 Dodge truck. Red 1948 Chevrolet truck that my father got from Wallace Caswell in the final settlement of their business arrangement, O man did I love driving that Chevy truck, which confirmed my preference for GM over Chrysler products: not only better looking, the Chevy rode quieter and smoother and was much easier to steer in those days before power steering. 

Teen years, right? Salie Allen’s parents’ new black 1950 Cadillac Series 62 sedan. The Peters’ green 1953 Buick Super, one of my all time favorites; and their green 1953 Ford Country Sedan. Parker’s father’s 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline sedan. Philip’s family’s green 1948 Oldsmobile. Father Fred Yerkes’ 1952 black Chevrolet Fleetline and Tommy Fidler’s grandfather’s Chevy just like it except it had Powerglide. Tommy’s grandfather was Constable in Carrabelle our growing up years, and Tommy drove it over to Camp Weed to visit me the summer of 1953. So, oh, Tommy's father's brand new 1951 Mercury coupe that night he arrived from Bowles military school in Jacksonville and drove it up to see us at the bonfire pep rally at Bay High and Parker and I, using a dime, jumped the ignition and drove it to a different part of the parking lot, letting Tommy think it was stolen. Our laughing at the practical joke that night may have cost us Tommy's friendship, I hope not; but both Parker and Tommy are dead.

LaVerne’s mother’s Jeep station wagon, that 
was it except that it was green. Salie Allen’s mother’s two-tone blue 1954 Cadillac series 62 sedan. My Gentry grandparents’ 1952 Chrysler Imperial V8, hottest car of the age, at high speed on Pensacola’s dark streets in the late hours of the night with my cousin Bill while the grandparents were out playing poker or canasta with friends for the evening; and the 1953 Chrysler Windsor 6, after the Imperial a sluggard but it had wheels and we had the keys. Then the scrumptious, long and slinky light blue 1954 Imperial the summer I was 19.

At the Univ of Florida I drove work associates’ red 1956 six and black 1957 V8 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop coupes between Gainesville and the steak restaurant in Ocala, where we got filet mignons for $1.50, but I was twenty and twenty-one by then, so those don't count in my teens. And I was twenty when Higdon and I bought that 1947 Buick Special sedan for $75.00 and paid $78.80 for an assigned risk insurance policy from Allstate on it — so our Buick doesn’t count either. 

But Joanne’s gorgeous yellow with a black top 1954 Olds 88 Holiday hardtop coupe does count. 
She used to let Philip and me borrow that car in Gainesville because she never used it. Up until then, the sexiest car I ever drove. We used to drive it back and forth beteeen Panama City and Gainesville.

I was 19 living in Ordinary Time. 

And how could I have skipped our 1949 Plymouth woody wagon that took us through trips, high school dating years, and delivered me from Panama City to North Hall, the UFla freshman “men’s” dorm in Gainesville, the Sunday afternoon before my 18th birthday, September 1953. Ordinary Time.

Teen years. Not to mention: studying Latin with Miss Hord. English with Miss Faye and all the “chidren.” C-5 “Humanities” at UFla, trying to match tunes with composers at exam time: did I make a “C” or a “D”? I don’t remember …

Thos+ beyond Stoppage Time
beyond +Time, and
as from turning eighty 14 Sep 2015, in +Time+

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Yermy Doesn't Get the Girl

Jerry Doesn’t Get the Girl

This is our Old Testament reading for Sunday, January 31, 2016, Epiphany 4C. 

Jeremiah 1:4-10 (NRSV) 

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 

7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8  Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”

9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
10 See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

The bible is full of Call Stories, God calling people into his prophetic or leadership service, Jesus calling people he encounters into discipleship. But this is one of my favorites, maybe even my topmost favorite, God calling Jeremiah. I have a mental image of the two, Jeremiah standing there maybe in the dusty street or maybe in his parents' house, suddenly confronted by a yellow-white brilliance that starts talking to him. Oval, about human-size, a little taller than he is, a little higher, it’s just “there” sort of suspended in front of Jeremiah, suspended in that it has no human shape to it, including no legs or feet, just this bright Oval like a fuzzy star or something. 

Jeremiah is a youth in my image of what happens, older than ten but younger than eighteen. Seeing him standing there stunned, I reckon he’s about sixteen. Adolescent, full of himself, but not all that full that he’s not taken aback at the bright specter in front of him telling him to do something he has no intention of doing. It’s not “asking” either, it’s telling him, like it thinks it’s all of a sudden in charge of him.

“Not me,” says Jeremiah, whose name sounds something like YermyYahu and means something like “uplifted by Yahweh.” As his father is a priest, Jeremiah knows he’s in for it in the years-ahead course of his life, but not now while he’s trying to screw up the courage to ask that cute blond fourteen year old girl next door if she’ll go to the movies with him Saturday evening. Maybe his dad will drive them, and in the back seat of the car he can hold her hand. Maybe even a kiss? He's had a crush on her all his life.

But here’s this bright thing instead, and not taking any protests or backtalk either.

“Young man, don’t you tell ME you’re ‘just a boy,’ I knew you before you were, and you’ll go where I send you and say what I command you.  

“Jesus Christ, man,” says Jeremiah. “I’m only fifteen years old. I got other plans.”

Some other boy got the girl when Jeremiah didn't ask her as she'd hoped. Maybe that's why he was so irritable as a prophet.

Meantime, what theological hides within Adonai's call to Jeremiah? "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." Perhaps for one, that we are, were, that each of us existed as a being before ever being conceived as human, but as a "person" in a sense like the divine person of the Son. Part of eternity, even, as John says, "with God." If we return to the Lord after we die, were we also part of the Lord before this life? I don't know. I'm uneasy about whether this has implications for abortion issues --- before I formed you in the womb I knew you.


Monday, January 25, 2016

To Listen, Hear, and Answer Readily the Call

COLLECT for Epiphany 3
Give us grace, O Lord, to listen, hear and answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation. 

You may be seated.

As in the early wee hours of Friday morning I sit at my bayside window contemplating my sermon time, there are flashes of lightning beyond Shell Island out in the Gulf of Mexico south of me. Violent flashes to the west toward Destin and Fort Walton. On my computer laptop I open the weather radar map to see a long red weather system stretching from south out in the Gulf and north up into Kentucky and West Virginia: it is part of the storm that will dump a blizzard in the Washington DC area before the weekend is very old. 

From my window, in the shoreline lights of Oaks by the Bay Park next door, I see that the Bay is quite rough, waves rushing angrily ashore onto the beach at my feet seven stories below. And there are whitecaps across the surface of St. Andrews Bay that all my life I’ve loved so dearly.   

Give us grace, O Lord, to listen, hear and answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ.

At this ancient aging of life, Linda and I are blessedly able to live in a place that I call 7th Heaven, where I wonder as I look at the Propers for Sunday, including the Collect for the Day, what the Lord God who confronted Adam in the Garden and Abraham at age 75 — what the Holy One may yet have in mind for me. 

On my computer screen, I shrink the weather radar map to see that the only other heavy weather on the North American continent is a Pacific system stretching from British Columbia down across Seattle, and Oregon, into California below San Francisco and south of Los Angeles. Although born and raised here in Panama City right on the Bay, there are times when I long for California, where we lived for two years in the middle of our Navy life nearly fifty years ago.

Give us grace, O Lord, to listen, hear and answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ

God has called me from time to time at various ages and moments and places in my life, calling that somehow never seems to end. I’m here this morning listening again, as on the weather radar map the red line draws closer, now between me and Laguna Beach, and the lightning is brighter, no longer just in the clouds but bright streaks from sky to earth or sea, as the thunder that was rolling, now explodes loud and close.

What, Lord? Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. Abraham’s response: Hinneni — Here I am, Lord. What Abraham said, and Samuel.

I waited fifteen years before daring to tell my story the first time, because self-consciously it makes me feel and wonder if I’m insane, or look and sound insane, but eventually I told my church in Apalachicola, and at St. Thomas, Laguna Beach, and I’ve hesitantly told it here a couple of times over the almost eighteen years I’ve been retired from parish ministry and serving and preaching off and on here at Holy Nativity. I’m on my third stint as Priest Associate here, this is the place of my heart.

My call story always makes me uneasy, and I wonder, like Ebenezer Scrooge confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, whether it was an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.

But no, I was awake and deeply distressed that night. Monday evening, February 13, 1984. It would have been my grandfather Weller’s hundred-twelfth birthday — his father was an Episcopal priest, and two of his brothers, and their grandfather before them. And I was soon to be ordained priest. The bishop had assigned me to our home parish for my nine months as deacon-in-training, and that assignment was to continue indefinitely as I took up the ministry of associate rector as a priest. 

As rain splashes on my window and lightning flashes bright and close with instant claps of thunder, I glance at the weather radar and see that the storm’s red line is crossing the bay and coming toward me.

Now on top of my building, flashing, crashing thunder and lightning. I don’t realize that a tornado warning has just been flashed across the area.

It’s two-forty-nine a.m. and suddenly all the tall building lights across the bay are gone, and all the red and green channel markers disappear except R6 flashing red two-and-a-half seconds just yards off my window.

I am in bed at our home on the Conodoguinet Creek in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In agony. Anguish. High mental stress, cannot sleep, worrying about pressure I cannot explain or understand, extreme tension has developed between me and Father Xxxx, once a dear friend, and who some years ago actually was the voice of God calling me out of my comfortable life into seminary and ordained ministry once and for all. Our warm relationship has chilled. We cannot stand each other. 

Rain is slamming against my window now as I sit here, type, think, remember.

I’d read a book recently, Nine O’clock in the Morning, by Father Dennis Bennett, about the charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church, and the Reverend Terry Fullam, early active in the movement, who had become to me a hero of sorts. I am 48 years old. In the book Terry describes his anguish during a personal religious retreat at St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai in the Holy Land, as he struggles with ministry decisions and the course of his life. (I’ve told you this story before) — At a dark hour and pitch black night, he is in his cell in the monastery, when, as Terry describes it, his mind is suddenly emptied of all thought, all conscious awareness; and then completely filled by a voice, speaking to him at some length, that clarifies for him his future, of God’s will and God’s call. This is on my mind as I struggle with tension, indecision and unhappiness in my own life — should I —

  • Stay on at Mount Calvary Parish in the hell it has become for me? I cannot do that.
  • Should I go to the bishop with the letter I’ve already written telling him I’ve decided against my upcoming ordination to the priesthood, and am returning to lay status and my business, which I am in fact still operating, and my university courses, which I am still teaching?  The letter is already signed. I’ve shown it to my rector and will take it to the bishop in the morning.
  • Should I start looking around for another parish in the diocese, a call to one of the several vacant pulpits?

Lying in bed unhappier than I’ve ever been, I speak aloud, prayerfully in a whisper, because Linda is asleep next to me. “Lord, you spoke to Terry Fullam: why can’t you speak to me?”

Whether it was the stress and anger and sadness, or my disturbed mind, or my imagination, my mind instantly is drained, emptied of all consciousness, all awareness, all thought, and as instantly filled with a voice: “I AM speaking to you, Tom Weller.” Just as suddenly, the voice is gone and I am back to where I was, in control of all my senses.

My life clarifies in that moment. As a 19-year-old university sophomore I’d abandoned the call to ordained ministry that had been clear to me since age ten. Changed my college major, and after graduation entered the U. S. Navy. 

At twelve years Naval service, in a warship crossing the Pacific on its way to Vietnam, I decided to resign as soon as eligible for retirement; and eight years later I’d done that - retired - but not to go to seminary, with no intention of seminary and ordination even though people in our Pennsylvania parish kept hounding, harassing me to do that. “Tom, you have a vocation to ministry, have you ever considered going to seminary?” And me, “Yes, I have considered it, and I decided long ago not to do that.” Even members of my family, my mother. But I said, “No, mama, I’m not doing that.” I worked a year with a Washington, DC consulting firm, then started a business, a traveling international venture of American, Canadian and Australian defense industries. And teaching two graduate courses in Major Weapons System Acquisition for the political science division at the University of West Florida. 

But eventually, obviously! I’d relented [I’ve told the story here several times, so not repeating it again this morning], relented and gone to seminary and ordination. First, a transitional deacon. And now I was struggling with unbearable tension and unhappiness. Our intent to stay comfortably retired and working ensconced as a part-time priest at our home parish in Harrisburg has turned into a nightmare. Why this tension and anguish?

Why, Lord? You spoke to Terry Fullam. Why can’t you speak to me?

I AM speaking to you, Tom Weller.

I stayed for ordination as priest. The following month I started my search process that over the next few weeks resulted in a call to be rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, a lovely old parish in Pennsylvania Deutsch Country a few miles east of Harrisburg and friends; and also a two hour drive to Washington, DC, where I could easily continue my relationships and my retired Navy life and business career if I failed parish ministry. We prepared to accept the call and move to Mount Joy.

And then of course another call came: to Trinity, Apalachicola, back home to northwest Florida, sixty-five miles from Panama City where I’d always meant to return. So Apalachicola, where we lived and served happily the next fourteen years. I found my happiness only in listening, hearing and answering God’s call.

I AM speaking to you, Tom Weller.

The storm has passed through now, still raining lightly, thunder and lightning off to the east and away. St. Andrews Bay is clear, all harbor lights visible, also the string of lights at Bay Point and tall condo buildings on Thomas Drive along the Gulf shore.

What now, Lord? 

Give us grace, O Lord, to listen, hear and answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ.

20160124, Sunday Epiphany 3C sermon/homily by the Rev. Tom Weller, HNEC, Panama City, FL. Texts: collect and gospel Luke 4:14-21. Printed not pridefully but hesitantly with great self-consciousness, and ONLY because of a standing commitment to a friend whom I will never let down! TW+

Monday 20110124: into The Absence

into The Absence

Yes, it was January 24, 2011, but mainly it was Monday. And by this time I had been up over an hour, showered, lathering from head to toe in antiseptic body-wash I'd been told was highly toxic and not to get in eyes, nose or mouth. Our little company, which by now had grown, besides me, Linda and Rayford, to Joe, Tass, Nicholas, Father Steve … waited in the lobby for the trolley, the little bus, to collect us on the bitter cold morning way up north, and ride us from the hotel to the front entrance of the heart institute. I do not remember being nervous or anxious, I had been approved for open heart surgery to do this, that, and the other thing, scheduled first on the list, and this was my one, single chance. If it went well, tomorrow would be Extraordinary Time; otherwise no matter, I’d never know! 

Early I’d been up to write my final Stoppage Time piece for CaringBridge, predecessor to my +Time blog that started a week or so later. Anticipating dreams while away, while gone, I'd got my dreams lined up. Dreams didn’t happen, not at all, there were incidents of “ICU psychosis” later, but no dreams through the surgery. Maybe the heart-lung machine blocks dreams, IDK, but there was only Absence. However, I’d prepared dreams of special times, special places, images that special poems always raised for me, dreams that I wouldn’t have to explain if I talked in my sleep (let the reader understand!). But no dreams. Below is part of my predawn CB post. Below that is my memory of after saying goodbyes in the prep room, being wheeled away through the double doors, down the hall, more double doors, into The Absence


+++   +++   +++

On this beautiful spring morning I may walk in the yellow wood with Robert Frost, taking that New England road with him, the one less traveled by. 

This morning I shall be walking on the beach. I’m skipping class, leaving my shoes and shirt in the car and walking the sugar white. Early I’ll be at the jetties but you may find me walking anywhere from there all the way out to Laguna Beach. 

At liberty call this (late summer 1957) morning I’m hopping the Jamestown Ferry. Linda will be waiting at the ferry landing and we’ll head out in the green 1948 Dodge, across Narragansett Bay Bridge to Kingston for the weekend.

Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God,...” recessional hymn Trinity, Apalachicola 1994, Linda is holding Kristen but she’s leaning and stretching out her arms for Papa to take her as I walk down the aisle. ... “He whose word cannot be broken...

Disney Wonder is docked at Castaway Cay this morning. We’ll be here all day and the others may go swimming but I’m sitting here on the beach under this umbrella all day long. Except for lunch: a monstrous Disney double hamburger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, bit of catsup, touch of mustard, cole slaw, ... . Linda and me, Kristen, Malinda, Ray, Joe and Patty, Nick, Lauren, Tass and Jeremy, Caroline, Charlotte ... Supper tonight: rack of lamb in Palo just Linda and me. 

“I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.

Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, 
give your Holy Spirit to Thomas; 
fill him with grace and power, 
and make him a priest in your Church.” 

Boooaaard! Sunset Limited departing New Orleans for Tucson this evening, ... We wish the dining car wouldn’t rock so ... but peaceful sleep ...

Last night I slept in Narnia, in the wigwam of Puddleglum the MarshWiggle; this morning a breakfast of delicious eel stew in thick heavy brown gravy, and then we set off to the north country, dragons and the land of the giants.

This morning I’m lying here on the chaise on my upstairs porch looking across at Shell Island. Soft salty breeze. Warm sunshine. I may relax and read here all day; and this evening stroll down front and stand under the cedar tree and watch a magnificent sunset over St. Andrews Bay.

To dream. This morning I may do all those things, perhaps through the woods with Frost,
leaving The Road Not Taken for
the road less traveled by, and
going again to places with loved ones,
and alone, perhaps
to Narnia with the children, and even
to Innisfree with Yeats,

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,      
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Hope to see you in Extraordinary Time.
Tomorrow perhaps!


Gurney Journey

Cleveland Clinic has an endless supply of thick blankets that have been heated and now cover me toe to chin as someone behind me pushes us through the double doors, down a hall, turn a corner, another hall, and through more enormous double doors into a long hall that seems like but probably is not as wide as Harrison Avenue. Expecting the angina to strike with a vengeance any moment, I’m clutching my little brown bottle of tiny nitrostat pills. We pass two or three huge, wide, sliding doors, ten or twelve feet high. They are slid open and I see operating rooms on each side of the hall. The attendant rolls my gurney to a stop and parks me by the corridor’s left wall beside my own sliding door to my own OR, wishes me well, and leaves. 

I'm alone in this enormous corridor that feels like the inside of, not a freezer, but a walk-in chill reefer on a Navy warship. But I have my warmed blankets. Someone comes down the corridor from behind me, slides open the door across the hallway and slightly farther down, goes inside. In a moment, comes out pushing a huge, tall machine of some sort, across into my OR. More great machines, two or three of them, are wheeled down the hall from the other direction, one is rolled into my room, another into someone else’s OR across the way. 

Traffic picks up. Another gurney glides by and is parked outside an OR down the corridor a bit. An attendant brings me a pill to swallow. I’d had this pill earlier, and suspect this is why I’m not anxious. As I watch the action, in front of me comes another enormous machine and is wheeled into my room. A man in scrubs, green maybe, comes out of my room to me, introduces himself as my anesthesiologist, and starts my drip. The corridor is chilly, but someone brings another warmed blanket and puts it over my feet. I remember that, when I’d had my pre-op interview Friday, the surgeon had asked if I was afraid. I’d said, “yes, I’m afraid my feet will be cold.” They were keeping my feet warm. People in various color scrubs came down the hall and into my room, as well a into the other person’s room across the corridor and down from mine. My team. Having met him Friday, I recognized my surgeon.

I didn’t have a watch on, no cell phone, saw no clock in the corridor, but must have laid/lain there on my gurney about 45 minutes as the OR was made ready and medics arrived. More than 30 minutes, less than an hour. Someone came out, spoke kindly, and wheeled me into the OR. To my left near a large machine, my medical team were conferring as my gurney was rolled up against a long stainless steel table. Someone or two stood beside me as one asked if I could slide over onto the operating table. I remember shuddering, thinking how freezing cold it looked. But, clutching my brown bottle, I slid over onto it. It was warm, heated. I lay down and saw the anesthesiologist do something. “This will never work,” I think as my blankets are removed and I lay there covered only by a narrow strip of modesty, “I’m still awake.”

Into the absence --

Thos+ in +Time+
20160124, 25