Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage
Riverhead Books (March 2, 2021), 223 pages
Kindle edition $11.99, Amazon hardcover $15.61
Reading an Anne Lamott book is like reading a book by an old friend. I have been reading her books for many years, and she was a regular guest on the late, lamented West Coast Live radio program in San Francisco.
She wrote this book before the change of administration in Washington, so perhaps there is a bit of a pall over it that wouldn’t have been there had she finished the book after January 20. Nonetheless, Lamott is not about negativity; she writes about hope and help.
If you’re familiar with Anne Lamott you know she is a recovering alcoholic, and she speaks honestly about addiction and recovery. She writes about how she has been helped, about she has helped others, and about how we can help each other. Lamott (who is less than a year younger than me) was married for the first time in 2019, and she worries her husband may discover that she’s not the person he thought he married. He seems to not be troubled by that.
Anne has a way of putting things in perspective, even when the world seems impossibly difficult:
The search for the holy grail has been called off. No grail to find, no code to break. All along, it turns out that there was only the imperfect love of a few trusted people and that in troubled times, like heat waves, epidemics, and blackouts, most people bring their best selves. No ultimate answers, only the blessings of friendship and service; silence and music, the beauty of the seasons and skies, creation, in art and life’s phases—birth, death, new life. Sigh.
Lamott tells us, “Maybe the poet was wrong when he said the center cannot hold. Maybe it can and does hold. Maybe the center paradoxically holds everything, like the gravity well in which our teeny galaxy is held.”
She writes, “Terrible losses befall those we love, and yet we are saved again and again by a cocoon of goodwill, evolution, and sweet milky tea. That is plenty of center for me.”
And for me too.
I am not a trinitarian kind of guy, as I have more than once noted here. My personal theology is much closer to rabbinic Judaism than it is to a Christian trinitarian perspective. Yet I am an Episcopalian, about as trinitarian a denomination as it’s possible to be.
Nonetheless I do sometimes like the idea of the Holy Spirit, depending on how it is portrayed. Some of the best, most interesting, and fun portrayals can be found in the Facebook page Unvirtuous Abbey. One of my favorites is this one. It reminds me that in those moments when God seems far away one only need wait a short while for the arrival of His (Her!) presence.
We preempt our regularly scheduled blog to bring you the royal wedding sermon by The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. It is well worth fourteen minutes of your time. You may want to have a Kleenex handy.
We lost Ann Fontaine last week.
Ann was a well-known figure to Episcopalians online. I knew her through her blog, through the Episcopal Café, and through Facebook.
I was aware that she had some lung issues, but somehow I had the impression that those issues were under control. However, Ann announced before Ash Wednesday that she was not going to observe Lent this year – she had enough to focus on with her own health. She, in effect, put herself into self-managed hospice care. Somewhere around Easter she called in the hospice professionals. Her daughter let us know last week that Ann died peacefully in her sleep.
We will miss her.
I loved reading her blog when she actively maintained it. She was a founder of the Episcopal Café and an active contributor until recently. I once wrote an article for the Café in which I described how, though an Episcopalian, I had a big problem with the Trinity and that my theology was much closer to that of rabbinic Judaism. She posted a comment on Facebook saying, “Someone doesn’t understand the Trinity.” That kind of irked me, but she was right. I still don’t understand the Trinity.
Ann was also a Facebook friend. She would occasionally click Like on one of my posts. I appreciated that. She loved baseball, as, of course, do I. She was a big-time Cubs fan. While still in the Bay Area I was a Giants fan, but after moving back to SoCal in 2015 I had no choice but to resurrect my loyalty to the team of my childhood, the Dodgers. There was some discussion a while back about bringing the designated hitter to the National League. Ann posted her outrage to Facebook. A FB friend replied that it wasn’t that big of a deal. And replied, “Yes it is!” I fully agreed with her.
We love you, Ann. We miss you. Rest in peace and rise in glory!
I’m not that old. At least I don’t feel that old. I have to admit that I become eligible for Medicare next year. But still. And if I want to feel young, all I have to do is to do is have lunch at the Bistro here at Four Seasons or go to Sunday service at Good Shepherd Episcopal.
Think back to the first major global event you remember. For me, it was the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
She went on to write: “Others may recall the fall of the Berlin Wall. … Still others will remember the events of September 11, skyscrapers folding in upon themselves and planes being transformed into missiles.”
I was working at the weekly newspaper Metro in San Jose when the publisher’s wife said, “The shuttle blew up.” When the Berlin Wall fell I was working at a small software company in Mountain View. On 9/11 I was snoozing on the commuter train, not learning what had happened until I arrived at Lawrence Station in Sunnyvale.
The earliest events I remember were decades earlier. I remember talk of Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a podium and people discussing his statement, “We will bury you.” I remember the events surrounding the 1960 presidential election. I suppose the first specific even I remember was Alan Shepard’s sub-orbital flight in 1961. I was an avid follower of the space program then on.
But still, I don’t feel that old.
I make a point of taking nothing for granted. And I make a point of being grateful.
I first got my hearing aid in 2010. I was delighted at the difference it made. I was grateful to have it. I had to send it in for repair twice and missed it terribly while I was without it. I never took it for granted.
Recently I lost it. It was, literally and metaphorically, the perfect storm. On Friday 17 February Southern California was hit by the largest rain storm it had seen in a dozen or more years. That same day Terry was scheduled for a procedure at a location about thirty miles away. (You know the procedure. It’s the one we have to get every few years after we turn a certain age. The one where the preparation is more unpleasant than the actual procedure.) When we arrived at the facility it was cloudy and cold but not raining. By the time they released Terry the storm had arrived in full force. I had Terry in the wheelchair and was trying to juggle that and the umbrella. As I often do when going from a building to the car when it is raining I took off my hearing aid and put it in my pouch. I managed to get Terry to the car and into the car, get rid of the wheelchair, and get myself into the car. When I went to get my hearing aid out of my pouch it wasn’t there. The battery was there but there was no hearing aid. Retracing my steps in the pouring rain produced nothing, and even if it had the hearing aid would doubtless have been ruined.
It being a Friday afternoon, there was nothing I could do until Monday. I researched local hearing aid centers over the weekend and selected one that had been in business for a long time and sold multiple lines. I called them first thing Monday morning and though it was President’s Day I was grateful that they were open. I made an appointment for 8:00 a.m. Wednesday. The audiologist was very competent and thorough. I asked him about a hearing aid that would connect directly with my iPhone. He recommended the ReSound brand and as it was only a little bit more expensive than buying the brand I previously had, I decided to go for it.
The hearing aid arrived last Thursday and I immediately made an appointment for this morning. I went in and again the audiologist was very thorough and helpful. The features are somewhat different from my previous hearing aid, but I am getting used to how they work. And not only am I able to use my iPhone directly with my hearing aid (without an intermediate device), but I can control it from my iPhone. I can change the volume and the settings. There is a restaurant setting that I can adjust for the ambient sounds, and then tell the app to remember that restaurant.
It’s all very cool and I am delighted to be able to hear properly again.
I am grateful and I take nothing for granted.
I somehow simply of fell into this. I sit in my chair and read the day’s Forward Day by Day meditation. Then I pull out my copy of the marvelous book, 2000 Years of Prayer, which I have owned for more than a decade and a half, and flip to a random page where I read a prayer or two or three.
Simple and straightforward. And so far it’s working.
I have always thought that the serenity prayer as we commonly know it (“God grant me the serenity…”), made popular by 12-step groups, to be rather trite and trivial. That is no doubt due in part to its ubiquity and for me perhaps due also in part to it being shoved at me in my younger, much more impatient days.
Back in March, I wrote about a new serenity prayer written by James Martin, a Jesuit priest. I have kept it framed on my wall since around that time, and I commend it to you. I have recently been thinking about the original, complete serenity prayer, however. It was written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Given the current political climate and the state of the world in general, I have pulled it out of my electronic archives, and it is now on my study wall directly below the James Martin version. For me it is much more powerful than the oft-repeated version.
For your consideration:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
From the first Sunday Eucharist I attended at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd here in Hemet over a year ago, I felt welcome and comfortable. That was due in large part to the rector, Pastor Kathleen. She was very cordial and made me feel at ease in the church. Though I have to say I’ve reached the point where I would feel comfortable walking into just about any Episcopal church.
Kathleen is amazing at becoming familiar with people’s strengths and interests and turning those into volunteer opportunities for the church. She very quickly had me writing a couple of articles for the church newsletter. Her energy is unbelievable. I can’t believe how much she accomplishes in the course of a week. Then there are her sermons, which are down-to-earth, practical, and hit close to home.
So what came in the mail last week was completely unexpected. When I saw the envelope from Good Shepherd I didn’t open it right away as I assumed it was simply a giving statement or some such thing and I was busy with other things. When I did open it I discovered a letter from Pastor Kathleen saying that she was retiring and that her last Sunday would be 11 September.
Good Shepherd will be fine. It is a strong, healthy church that has changed rectors before. But I will greatly miss Kathleen and all of her unique qualities.
My parish and a local synagogue are sharing in some services, so tonight I went to Shabbat service, my first time there. Best question of the evening: “Did your family get upset with you when you became Catholic? Did you do it because you got married?” Me: “No, I started out this way. I just seem Jewish because I sort of am.”
—my friend Fran on Facebook
I identify with Fran. I’m not Catholic. I was raised a Methodist and these days I am an Episcopalian. But I do identify.
I have been attracted to Judaism since I was in high school. In college I was happy to be surrounded by so many Jewish classmates. I dated and was very fond of a Jewish woman named Julia during my Claremont Cockroach days. Somehow I managed to not make that relationship work.
In Oklahoma City my first wife Ruth was Jewish. We were married by the Reform rabbi under a chuppah in you back yard. I considered converting. I found the Yom Kippur Kol Nidrei service to be deeply moving. I loved attending Friday evening Shabbat services, but the rabbi made some unkind comments about the New Age movement in a sermon, and seriously ticked off Ruth who was a big time New Ager. My attempts at “But what he was really saying was that…” fell on deaf ears. So that was the end of that.
One time I attended an interfaith panel sponsored by the Oklahoma City Islamic community. I was there to present the perspective of the Unitarian Church, to which I belonged at the time. When I arrived, the host came over to me, extended his hand, and said, “Rabbi Maharam?”
Even today I become somewhat wistful when Yom Kippur nears.
I would not consider converting today. I know where my roots are, and I am where I belong in the Episcopal Church. But, like Fran, I sort of am Jewish.