Awesome Anna and the American-made Peace Plan

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord — Mary’s purification and the holy parents’ presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. Luke’s gospel tells us that that the Holy Family came up to Jerusalem for this rite of purification that Jewish law required of a mother after childbirth. They were also fulfilling Jewish law requiring them to present their firstborn son to God and designate him as holy.

We still do this purification rite today, although the 1979 Book of Common Prayer eliminated the idea that childbirth causes ritual impurity. We kept the ritual around “the Churching of Women,” though, as it was called — now referred to as Thanksgiving Upon the Birth or Adoption of a Child on page 439 of the BCP. This purification rite was important in the Holy Family’s time — important enough for Mary and Joseph to have walked all the way from home in Nazareth to the Temple in Jerusalem, at least a 5-day walk if the roads weren’t flooded in the Jordan Valley during the winter rains that are going on now. And important enough for Mary and Joseph to have bought the prescribed pair of turtle doves, or two young pigeons, for the sacrifice at the Temple, as Luke’s gospel tells us they have done.

There must have been other parents and firstborn sons coming into the Temple for this rite. After all, every Jewish family with a boy in it has a firstborn son. But this firstborn son, the newborn Jesus, attracts the special attention of two remarkable people, Simeon and Anna, who tell us in Luke’s gospel that Jesus’ arrival changes everything.

Our gospel today is a pretty short story — about three inches of text when it’s not blown up to eighteen-point font so those with presbyopia (priest’s eyes) can see it. There’s not a lot of room for extra details.

So which details do we get? Twenty-five percent or less of the text refers to the Holy Family. At least 75% of the text in this story refers to Simeon and Anna, and how they meet the holy. We meet Simeon first, and we’re told he is a righteous man. The Holy Spirit rests on him. He lives in Jerusalem, Luke’s gospel says, and he’s guided by the Holy Spirit into the Temple, where he takes the baby Jesus into his arms. He sings the song that we say or sing in Evening Prayer to this day: Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised, for these eyes of mine have seen the savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see.

Anna is identified as a prophetess, which on its own is a singular fact. In the Old Testament, I only count Isaiah’s wife, Huldah, Noadiah, Miriam, and Deborah as women prophets, and Anna is the only one I can think of in the New Testament. But this prophetess Anna — every minute of 84 years old, the gospel tells us, and fasting and praying in the Temple every day — arrives just as Simeon is blessing Jesus. Anna praises God and right away starts telling everyone who hoped for the redemption of Jerusalem — which is pretty much everyone living under Roman occupation in first century Jerusalem — that this new baby Jesus was their hope.

Robin Gallagher Branch — a Professor of Biblical Studies who focuses on women in scripture — notes that Luke’s pairing of Simeon and Anna provides an interesting comparison:

Simeon praises the Lord while Anna offers thanks.

Simeon prophesies — at poetic length — but Luke calls Anna a prophetess.

Luke gives us three short verses on Anna that communicate vividly that Anna deserves all the honor bestowed on the elderly in the Ancient Near East. She’s called a prophetess, so she she outranks Simeon, even though he is praised as righteous and devout, and may even be a priest, because he holds the baby Jesus. Anna is the New Testament’s only named female prophetess. Luke tells us Anna’s father’s name (Phanuel) but not her husband’s name, so she stands on her own. Luke also mentions Anna’s tribe, the tribe of Asher, so Anna is among the few New Testament characters with a tribal identification. Jesus is another one.

Simeon focuses on what Jesus the Messiah will mean in the future to all the nations, as well as to the people of Israel. Luke hints that Simeon is old. He has had a revelation that he won’t die, though, until he sees the Messiah. The substance of Simeon’s prophecy — which we call today the Song of Simeon — is that now that he’s seen the Savior, he can die in peace.

But anything Simeon can do, Anna does better!

Simeon is old, but Anna is either 84 years old — or, in an equally likely translation of the Greek, she has been a widow for 84 years, which would make her about 105.

This is a lot of specific detail about Anna’s age, which we notice even more next to Luke’s vague hints that Simeon is a senior citizen.

Simeon “lives in Jerusalem”. The Holy Spirit guides Simeon up to the Temple to find the Holy Family. Interestingly, Simeon’s response to seeing the Messiah is to say that now he can die in peace — stop all his work as a holy man.

Anna, however, is right in the Temple all along. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. She takes one look at the baby Jesus and immediately gets right to work, full of energy at all of her 84 or 105 years. Whatever it is, it doesn’t even matter, because Anna is the Energizer Bunny of the Lord. Right away, Anna speaks about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem, telling them that this new baby Jesus is the one who will provide their liberation from the Roman occupation.

How do we meet the holy?

I thought of Simeon and Anna last week as I sat in the winter afternoon sun in one of my favorite holy spots in the Old City of Jerusalem — the ancient stone steps leading up to the Huldah Gates. The Huldah Gates — named after the prophetess Huldah, interestingly — have been walled up since the Middle Ages.Photo credit: Ethel Wright (I must have a million photos of this side of the walled up Huldah Gates, but cannot put my hands on any today and give thanks to my friend and fellow pilgrim).

But they are very likely the gates that Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and even the prophetess Anna would have passed through on the way to the Temple Mount — Anna less frequently than Simeon, because, as Luke’s gospel tells us, she prayed and fasted at the Temple pretty much 24/7/365. What do Simeon’s and Anna’s examples tell us about discipleship, and how we respond to Jesus? Like many human beings, even holy ones, in scripture, Simeon and Anna are not examples of good and bad — or right or wrong — responses to the holy. They are different, so we can see our own humanity interacting with God.

On the stone steps to the Huldah Gate that our ancestors in faith would have climbed, I like to touch the right side of the now-walled up gate, where Anna might have touched — or Mary, or Joseph, or Simeon — as they passed through on the way up to the Temple.

Or maybe they were left-handed? I touch the left side too as I imagine that possibility, my hand searching out the memory of Simeon’s and Anna’s hopeful touches, drawn by the Holy Spirit to meet Jesus, a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people, Israel, as Simeon sings.

How do we meet the holy? Both Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus as the Messiah and honor him. Simeon’s prophecy is now fulfilled. He’s a holy man, and righteous. He has seen the Savior, so he can relax and die in peace. Anna, measurably and specifically older than Simeon, and a prophetess, just gets to work. Luke writes the gospel this way, trying to get us to notice this.

I think of Simeon and Anna’s hopeful, human touches on that ancient stone now — more than 7,000 miles and 2,000 years away. Like Anna, I’m looking for hope for all those living under the current occupation of Jerusalem and Palestine, especially as the American-made peace plan, hatched and announced with great fanfare without consultation or input by any Palestinians, was announced this week. But it’s hard to see. As the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem wrote in their statement released Thursday, may the resurrection of our Lord from Jerusalem remind us all of the sacrifices to ensure justice and peace in the Holy Land, then and now.

How do we respond to the holy?

Recognizing the holy is the first step. One response is to retreat in gratitude like Simeon, your own best hopes fulfilled. Another is to be an Energizer Bunny of the Lord, like Awesome Anna, and get the word out to all who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem — all of us who hope to walk in the Kingdom of God.


Author, anthropologist, and artist Ali Qleibo stands at Damascus Gate on the second Saturday of Ramadan, on the way to the Centre for Jerusalem Studies to begin his lecture and walking tour of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.

On my last night in Jerusalem, just a week ago now, I walked down Salah El Deen Street in the early evening. I was wandering, because I knew that even during Ramadan, the ice cream store down the street would be open for those who weren’t fasting.

I hadn’t looked at the clock, but the sky was gloaming, both from the setting sun and from the mist of colored light thrown up and around by the tiny bulbs strung across the street for Ramadan. Just as I passed the mosque on the right about halfway to Herod’s Gate on Salah El Deen Street, the cannon at the mosque boomed, signaling sunset and Iftar, the breaking of the day’s Ramadan fast. I jumped – startled – but then I smiled as I recognized another of those only in Jerusalem experiences punctuating my last night in the holy city.

The annual observance of Ramadan is a time of fasting, reflection, prayer, and community, and its observance is considered one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, prayer five times a day, charity, and the Hajj – a pilgrimage to Mecca during one’s lifetime. During the month of Ramadan, observant Muslims abstain from food, water, smoking, sex, and any sinful behavior they feel could negate the purifying and sacred benefits of observing Ramadan.

The fast extends from before sunrise each morning until sunset – or night, according to some scholars. A cannon fires to tell when it’s time to break the fast, and each night it’s roughly one minute later. On the first night of Ramadan, a Monday, the cannon fired at 7:24. On my last night in Jerusalem, Tuesday a week ago, the cannon boomed at 7:45.

The fast is broken with three (or one, but not two) dates, and special Ramadan juice. Then the happy parties start, with feasting at big outdoor tables, up on the Haram, out in the streets in the Old City and East Jerusalem, and in homes starts, carrying on late into the night. Archbishop Suheil had a beautiful Iftar in the Bishop’s Peace Garden on the Cathedral Close for about 120 of Jerusalem’s religious and political leaders several weeks ago.

Ramadan is a season of reversal – where night turns into daylight with festive colored lights, each traditional color signaling an important spiritual attribute of Ramadan. Observant Muslims fast during the day, with altered work and school schedules, and eat and stay up all night, celebrating community, charity, and spiritual wholeness with special Ramadan foods and a festival atmosphere.

Walking through the streets of the Old City with Professor Ali Qleibo on the second Saturday of Ramadan for his tour of Mamluk buildings and lights in the Muslim Quarter. Young men in the various neighborhoods of narrow, ancient stone streets and steep ascents up from the low center of the Old City compete with each other for the most extravagant light displays.

Ali teaching from a doorway in the Muslim Quarter, drawing attention to the symbolic lanterns hung across the street.

Lanterns and crescent moons in the neighborhood’s light display.

With Petra and Ali, in photo taken by Claire Kosinski, in Iftar hosted by Ali at his house, including mish mish (apricot) pudding, a traditional Ramadan treat.

Ramadan tests its believers. On the third Friday in Ramadan, I walked through the Old City, and it was the hottest it had been since I arrived at the beginning of September. Boys were spraying the crowds with giant water guns and pump plant sprayers in the streets to keep people cool as the sun beat down on the smooth white limestone.

I stopped by to see my friends at Sinjlawi on David Street and found Yusuf napping on the floor in the darkened front room of the store, while Omar sank down in the chair outside the door, watching the store, welcoming but subdued. Omar went to shifts for the four brothers weeks ago, saying that with fasting’s testy tempers, it was not a good idea to have the four of them in the store at once. Fasting is hard on people, and the heat doesn’t help.

I wound my way through the Old City, sheltered from the bright hot of the day by the overlapping awnings in the narrow streets. I was searching for a deep dishpan to repurpose for a kitty litter pan for Natalie and the babies – no PetSmarts in the Old City, so I was looking for something with similar function. I went into one of the shops on the left fork that goes deep into the medieval reaches of the Old City, backing up to the ancient columns along the Roman Cardo.

Those shops run deep, and also sometimes are double wide, with access to the second adjacent room from the rear of the store. I crossed into the dark, second room, filled with shelves of housewares, and found the dishpan I needed, narrowly avoiding tripping over the shopkeeper napping on the floor in back while his son managed the shop.

Bishop Krister Stendahl, former Dean of Harvard Divinity School and presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, coined the phrase holy envy, the title and subject of Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book. Barbara (along with Harry Pritchett and Martha Sterne) was our much-loved associate rector at my longtime church, All Saints’ Atlanta, in the early 1980s, and I still carry images from her brilliant sermons with me as the objective correlative for spiritual conditions and observations that I cannot otherwise name.

Holy envy – a willingness to recognize elements in the other religious traditions or faiths that you admire and, in some ways, long for, in your own religious tradition or faith – is just the right phrase for what grew in me in Jerusalem. I know that the limitless shalom of Shabbat, the Orthodox veneration of icons and approach to Easter knowing the joyous end of the story, and the holy warmth and community of Ramadan will be the brightly colored lights strung across the street in my memory of Jerusalem’s gloaming evening sky.


IIn these last three weeks of my fellowship in Jerusalem, I recognize that there are many things that I am seeing, doing, eating and even saying for some of the final times. Not the last time ever, maybe, but one of the last, at least for now. It’s something I want to lean in close for, making sure that I don’t get distracted or lazy in these last days. It’s too easy to miss something big.

My favorite seat on our rolling church has always been the jump seat – the little fold-down seat at the front of the bus, down low with the driver, with the imax screen of the bus’s enormous windshield towering up over my head and spanning the horizon.

From the jump seat, I see the Galilee – the lower part of gentle rolls and valleys, and the upper Galilee, steep and still very green. It’s been a big rain year, and some of the valleys are still flooded. The water in the Sea comes 50 feet or more up higher on the shore than it was in September, and it looks more like it did when I was here five years ago. At Mensa Christi, we can walk barefoot into the water now over small, smooth beach stones where we needed shoes for the sharp, jutting rocks in the fall and winter.

Aubrey, walking on the Sea of Galilee in December. Thank

The water up high now, with smooth stones to walk on.

Holy rolling along the beautiful ridge of the Golan Heights, the lush, green hillsides are painted with broad strokes of yellow field marigolds, dotted with patches of red crown anemones and poppies, petals flaring in the breeze. Wild hollyhocks grow in the rocky soil at the side of the road, but we pass too quickly to get a good photo of their tall forms swaying in the wind.

These are almost the last times to see these things, and their importance and immediacy demands my complete attention. I am looking differently now – deeply – with a familiarity that uncovers new details and connections. I recognize broader associations and more telling patterns even in Mary June’s lectures. I’m sure she’s said all of these things before, but in these last weeks, I’m hearing more.

Wild hollyhocks grow everywhere, but are really difficult to photograph from the bus. These are in a traffic circle outside Jerusalem on the way to Abu Ghosh, but imagine them standing thick and long, leaning together and apart in the wind as we pass by.

At the House of Beatitudes, looking out over the Sea of Galilee.

Field marigolds and poppies in Banias Springs.

From the Roman ruins at Banias Springs, high pressure pipe from the time of Jesus. Banias Springs was an ancient site of pagan worship located at the foot of Mount Hermon, north of the Golan Heights, at the spring that forms the headwaters of the Jordan River. On the way to Banias Springs and the adjacent ruins of Caesarea Philippi, we pass mere feet from the border with Lebanon, and are a scant 50 miles from Damascus.

Pliny called the shrine Panias because, although it was the site of worship of earlier gods, it was dedicated during the Hellenistic period to the worship of Pan, the god of nature, who was half goat and half human. Panias translates into modern Hebrew and Arabic as Banias, hence the site’s modern name.

I took time in these last days to look again closely at the Roman ruins adjacent to the pagan spring site, where Matthew’s gospel tells us Jesus renamed Peter: You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

Besides, it’s an ancient water system, and even a retired bond lawyer cannot resist admiring a fine public project.

View from the pagan shrines, looking into the hills of Syria.

I also have slowed dramatically to notice the incarnate realities of the Galilee. Nazareth, and around the Sea, are places where the people of scripture walked, fished, grew up, and raised families. There they gathered around the village spring to fill up on water, news, and even annunciations, as Eastern tradition has it.

The Western tradition is that Mary’s conversation with the Angel Gabriel took place at her home, remembered by the church as the cave under the Byzantine church, under the Crusader church, under the 20th century church. The Eastern church remembers that the annunciation took place at Mary’s spring, inside St. Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church down in the village.

Part of that incarnate reality is the struggle of real people with miracles. I was able on this last visit to get closer, in better light, to one of my favorite frescoes of the nativity at St. Gabriel, where some points are so important to express that Jesus actually appears twice in the same fresco.

Fresco at St. Gabriel showing Mary reclining, Jesus at her side, gazing adoringly at Joseph, inviting him into the holy family – into the miracle – as he looks away. It couldn’t have been easy to be Joseph during the discomfort and doubt of Mary’s pregnancy during their betrothal. There would have been a lot of people around who were sure Joseph had not kept the law and was not a righteous man. There would have been a lot of talk, and a lot more going on than just a new baby at home.

In the bottom right corner of the same fresco, the baby Jesus appears again, being bathed by midwives present at the birth. Orthodox traditions express theology in icons, and this image counters the heresy of Docetism, that Jesus was fully divine but that his human body was an apparition – in other words, that Jesus didn’t have two natures. The midwives are there bathing the baby Jesus to stake the claim that Jesus was a real baby who had a real birth, and needed a real bath to clean up afterwards.

It was also fun to notice this week that the flowers planted in the Roman Catholic church at Bethphage are a completely liturgically appropriate garden. All of the flowers planted there are in shades of purple, from the lavender to the blooming rosemary. This is the church that remembers the place that Jesus got on the donkey to ride into Jerusalem, so purple is always the liturgical color here.

These penultimate times are also for first goodbyes, and lingering a little longer with dear friends, like Kojak and his driver, Ismael, on top of the Mount of Olives.

The first and second week of Easter

We’ve had an eventful couple of weeks. Georgie and I met this afternoon over tea in the garden and decided that it was time to update you.

Natalie’s prenatal care team (Shafeeqa and LuBan Dawani, together with medical transport vehicle driver Mark Aboudi) had conferred with the vet last week and determined that if Natalie had not gone into labor by Thursday of this week, she would go in for an examination and possible cesarean. Late Thursday afternoon, I crossed the Close from the College to check in on Natalie and found that Shafeeqa had already put the plan in motion.

She had managed to give Natalie the sedative that the vet had provided in some particularly enticing canned cat food. Natalie was getting sleepy, but was still wary and unwilling to be picked up and put in the carrier. To make a long, yowling, furry, scratchy story short, we finally convinced her to get in the carrier to go to the vet.

Four kittens were delivered by C-section late Thursday. Three were living, two were healthy and vigorous, and one cannot yet nurse on its own and Shafeeqa and LuBan are taking turns feeding him by dropper every two hours. We think they are Georgie’s babies.

I visited them tonight, and they are very tiny and sweet, with little feet the circumference of pencil erasers. One looks just like Georgie. It’s often said that all the pains and indignities of childbirth are forgotten when the mama sees her children and bathes in others’ praise and admiration of them.

I am glad for this effect, if it’s true. I was afraid Natalie would never speak to me again after I finally, after forty minutes or more of coaxing, pleading, waiting, and strategizing, lifted her by the nape of her neck with one hand, securing her back feet in my other. Shafeeqa gently but firmly placed the lid on the cat carrier as I slid my hands from around Natalie inside. But Natalie rose to greet me last night, purring loudly as she came in close for an ear rub. So maybe it’s best no one mention that transport again.

As for Georgie, he seems relieved and much more himself. He went in to the vet for his own small procedure last week (no, not that one, although Shafeeqa and I have talked about doing it very soon). Georgie, it seems, has either been fighting again or managed in some other way to get a chunk taken out of his left haunch that became infected. Both he and Natalie are on antibiotics, eating well, and feeling themselves again. Their wounds/incisions are healing quickly.

It seemed for the longest time that spring would never come. We had a violent hail storm Western Easter Sunday, and rainy, cool days and nights are still interspersed with the warming bright sun. It seems that it is finally a time for new life now in the first and second week of Easter, according to Orthodox or Western theological reckoning. Natalie’s babies have been born, the roses are blooming, both wild and cultivated hollyhocks are growing tall, and the streets are decorated and lit for the month of Ramadan, which starts Monday.

Holy Fire

I’m thinking that Natalie must be Orthodox. Armenian Orthodox, or Coptic maybe, because 7 days after Western Easter, Christ has risen for the Anglican Church, but Natalie is still waiting for her own new life to spring forth – for her kittens to be born.

Checking in with Natalie after returning from Holy Fire today.

I didn’t see her this morning, before John Peterson, Don Binder, Richard Sewell, and I set off for Holy Fire, the highest holy day of Holy Sepulchre’s liturgical year. What Christmas Eve is for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Holy Fire, the fire of resurrection, is for Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of the Resurrection. Both Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem were part of the Emperor Constantine’s 4th century building program, scouted by his mother, Queen Helena.

The last 5 of the 14 stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa are actually inside Holy Sepulchre: the place where Jesus was stripped of his garments at Calvary, the site of his crucifixion, where he died and was taken down from the cross, and then the empty tomb, inside the edicule. So much of Jesus’ passion is encompassed by — embraced, remembered, and treasured up inside — that one structure, and the Holy Fire is the annual ritual of the Orthodox Church that remembers the resurrection, with fire emerging from the empty tomb, on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter.

We were guests of the Armenian Patriarch for Holy Fire, which, as you might guess from the name, is the hottest ticket in town. We set out early to meet our Armenian host to walk through otherwise inaccessible passages to get to St. James in the Armenian Quarter, where we waited to process with the Armenian community from the Armenian Quarter to David Street, onto Christian Quarter Road, down St. Helena, and onto the Parvis in front of Holy Sepulchre.

Our passage along that route reminded me of a Jerusalem version of the Peachtree Road Race, but with longer, blacker clothes and more respectful Orthodox head coverings. I was alternately separated from, and reconnected with, our St. George’s crowd, as either one of them, or I, would reach a hand over or through the dense crowd to draw us all back together again.

Once inside Holy Sepulchre a little before 9:00 am, we settled in to wait – for FIVE HOURS. We met our neighbors. John Peterson, former longtime dean of St. George’s College and lifetime honorary citizen of Jerusalem, immediately adopted our nearby Russian neighbor, telling the holy bouncers that the young man was his son so that he could remain in the very crowded Armenian camp. The man had spent the night inside Holy Sepulchre with the Greek Orthodox, but found himself in front of the Armenian sacristy, which was our designated spot – right across from the hole in the side of the Edicule, the structure that surrounds the empty tomb, from which the holy fire would emerge.

Selfie with John Peterson and our new friend. We also found ourselves the near neighbors of Armenian American sisters, one who lived in Boston and the other in Michigan. Of course John had lived in the Michigan sister’s home town, and our little stand-up village grew. We stayed upright in the press, and sometimes forceful push, of the crowd by leaning against the stone wall, which also provided a welcome cool across our backs and inner wrists as the heat grew in the church.

After some time, the different groups processed in – the Copts, the Syrians, and the Greeks. Muslim beadles wearing red fezes led each group’s procession, banging heavy wooden verges on the floor. They symbolize the authority of the group to process outside its designated area under the Status Quo, the agreement that originated in 1757 that governs nine holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem that are shared among religious communities or faiths.

The church was immediately full at 9:00, with steady layers of people added in each group’s area until the place was packed, all the way up to the small windows at the top of the dome above the Edicule where I had never seen people before.

The people in the windows at the top ring around the dome had this view. The middle huge candle on the left of the steps up the Edicule points at my head, standing against the stone wall, wearing a white head scarf, with John Peterson to my immediate left. (photo credit: Bishara Khoury)

Finally, after four hours of standing, talking, waiting, watching, and holding each other up in our little village, the procession of the Greek Orthodox patriarch began, circling the Edicule three times. You can see the Patriarch’s crown in the following photo.

People shouted and chanted, processed, sang, prayed, and waited, until finally, the church was darkened, and we heard a continuous low note, building in intensity over at least 15-20 minutes. I was never able to figure out what it was – maybe a bagpipe drone, maybe an organ pedal – until finally, the fire came, shooting out of the hole in the side of the Edicule, and immediately lighting the torches of the waiting runners.

The runners sprinted out, carrying the fire to Orthodox churches all over Palestine, and also to Ben Gurion airport, to fly to Greece to light the Paschal candles in churches there. The fire then moved quickly to the beeswax resurrection torches we all held.

View of the Holy Fire from above. (Photo credit Bishara Khoury)

#compassrose #stgeorgescollege #berkeleydivinityschool #WeAreAnglican

Now the Green Blade Riseth

Georgie in the bishop’s chair before services recently. (Photo credit Don Binder)

Georgie came flying into the sacristy while I was setting up for eucharist last week on yet another chilly, dark, and rainy Jerusalem morning. He went straight for Dean Hosam’s vestment closet. Georgie, we’ve had this conversation already, I said. This is not good! Even if you had a liturgical role in the service, the Dean’s vestments would never fit you!

Georgie has grown into a significant presence on the Close and has an uncanny ability to appear unannounced at unusual times and in unexpected places. His quiet confidence and serene expectation give the impression that we are all his guests here. It’s not easy to back Georgie down on these assumptions, as his C.V. really does check out. Dean Hosam confirms that Georgie was featured on the documentary filmed in the Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, and he hasn’t missed a College course photograph since September. I’d assumed he’d hired a publicist.

I might have left my apartment door open for five minutes while I ran across the hall to the chaplain’s office and returned to discover Georgie at his repose.

Georgie keeps a packed schedule in the Guest House also, and is seen here consulting with renowned TEC canon lawyer Bradfute W. Davenport, Esq.

But even with Georgie’s bold presumption last week, I could tell something was on his mind. I could see some strain in his confidence – some hesitation in his step – and I had the growing suspicion that I knew what it might be.

I had seen the signs myself, that heavy portent that comes at the tail end of a long, dark winter. We have a deepening sense that any moment the daily rains will stop, the clouds will lift, the weather will warm. The roses and hollyhocks will burst forth, and the baby lambs will be born. But then, after the tease of a pretty, clear morning, or that day you don’t need a sweater in the afternoon, the weather goes cold and gusty again. Our confidence is shaken.

In that liminal season, with the air chilled, and the weather returning to cold rain quickly, we still feel the persistent hope of shortening days — the immediacy of coming spring – bringing lilacs out of the dead lands.

T. S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month for this very reason. April is the cruelest month because it mixes memory and desire. April is almost always at the very end of Lent, as it was this year, and April is cruel because, even with the memory of the past warmth of summer and the intense yearning for spring, the cold and dark of winter often lingers.

Georgie, Natalie’s expecting, isn’t she? I asked, looking at him intently. He stared back, silent and implacable. I had seen the changes in Natalie, but it hadn’t occurred to me until then that Georgie was the father. Natalie is mostly white, with touches of marmalade on the tips of her ears, feet, and tail, and until fairly recently had been small-boned and quite delicate. I had seen her that morning walking heavily, with a tellingly lumpy belly. It looks like it might be a large litter, and quite soon.

Baby figs just forming in the Galilee under brand new leaves.

Tiny baby olives remain after new blossoms drop off. Olives are harvested in November, so these are almost seven months from maturity.

Green almonds, a Palestinian delicacy.

In this moment of winter merging into spring, dry branches into buds, and irises, hollyhocks, and wild poppies rising out of the cold ground, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite Easter hymns. Now the Green Blade Riseth, written by John McCleod Crum in 1926 while he was a canon at Canterbury Cathedral, hints at Crum’s own life story.

Crum was about 54 when he wrote the hymn, remarried after his first wife’s death in childbirth, and the father of 5 more children. Crum had experienced his own seasons of dark winter, brightened by the hope of spring and then new birth.

The imagery of Jesus’ resurrection in the hymn is drawn directly from John 12:23, here in the King James translation Crum used: And Jesus answered them, saying, the hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

We stripped the altar at St. George’s Cathedral tonight after the Maundy Thursday eucharist. I carried the cross through the dark church as the clergy and congregation followed to process on to prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. I walked past the Garden of Gethsemane just this past Sunday – Palm Sunday – as we walked with thousands of pilgrims down the Mount of Olives from Bethphage, following Jesus’ triumphal path into Jerusalem. The earth in the garden had been turned, and was dark and rich-looking – heavy with possibility and hope, but still cold.

Tomorrow we observe Good Friday, and unlike the Eastern Orthodox churches, who experience their Holy Week (one week later than ours) with the joy of a faithful people who know the end of the story already, we will fast and pray, even as the impending resurrection of Easter — a dynamic sense of imminence — vibrates in the air.

This incredible, holy incipience hovers in the earth, like grain that sleeps unseen: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green. Now we wait.

1Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

2 In the grave they laid Him, Love who had been slain,
Thinking that He never would awake again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen: 
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

3 Forth He came at Easter, like the risen grain,
Jesus who for three days in the grave had lain;
Quick from the dead the risen One is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

4 When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Jesus’ touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: 
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

It’s been raining in Nazareth

It’s been raining in Nazareth, several weeks past the usual winter rainy season, and it continued even today. We arrived at one of my favorite places in the world, the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, to see the excavations with our group from the College. Spots of sun glinted on puddles and wet patches on the pavement in the upper courtyard as they flashed through small openings in the clouds.

All the rains have the gardens thriving. Everything is in bloom, and the rosemary is flourishing and covered with tender new growth. The fragrant, extravagant health of the rosemary was perfect and poignant this morning. Rosemary is for remembrance, which is why it is planted all over the grounds of Yad Vashem (“a memory and a name”), the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  It’s also planted at the Israel Museum.

The rosemary was significant at the convent this morning because Sister Nuad died overnight, and the sisters were remembering her as they prepared for her funeral later today, in accordance with local funerary customs. They acknowledged condolences and prayers graciously, grieving as they gave thanks for her long, wonderful life and their assurance of her new life to come in God.

The convent was keeping its regular schedule in the morning before the service. The sisters’ pet tortoises were in their usual feeding formation, having just finished the lettuce the sisters carefully set out for them every morning.

From the Convent, we walked down the hill to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, where the church remembers that Mary had her portentous conversation with the Angel Gabriel. People here often refer to these holy lands as the Fifth Gospel, alluding to the way the particular rocks, dirt, caves, places, and homes – the actual physical surroundings of the holy family and other characters of scripture – interact with the text of the other gospels.

The other gospels seem to take on new resonance and context when we can see where people lived, how they might have walked, how warm or cold – wet or dry – it might have been, and what they might have had to eat, or might have seen along the roadside as they walked. The church remembers the site of the Basilica of the Annunciation as Mary’s house. Inside the Basilica is the cave that hundreds of generations of our ancestors in faith remember as Mary’s home – inside the Byzantine church, under the Crusader church, and surrounded by the 20th Century church you see from the outside, or from the roof at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent.

Lily-shaped tower from the inside. The lily is a symbol of Mary.

Tower of the Basilica of the Annunciation, seen from the roof of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, at sunset.

The space inside the Basilica reminds me of a home. The large, low altar inside the chapel at the lowest level of the church reminds me of a welcoming dining room with plenty of seating all around the sides, with room for everyone to join in. And the altar inside the grotto – which is surrounded by the Byzantine church – looks like a kitchen table to me — a useful, active, welcoming table, used to prepare food to nourish, nurture, and hold a family together in well-being. The smaller altar in the cave looks like a table in the kitchen — the warm, beating heart of a home — where living, sustaining bread is baked, taken, blessed, broken, and distributed.

Byzantine grotto, surrounded by the remains of the Crusader church. The larger altar in front of the grotto is surrounded by bench seating, like a large dining room. Inside the grotto is the smaller altar.


Often the Fifth Gospel idea describes hills, outdoor distances, the temperature of the air and the sun’s blasting rays during the summer in the desert, but there can also be real resonance in our invitation to imagine Mary’s home life. We can imagine Mary, young mother of God, betrothed but unmarried, most likely not more than sixteen years old, living with her family in this town, in a rock shelter in this small, first-century village of Nazareth. From here she would have gone to fetch water to carry it home for cooking. Here she might have sheltered, tended cooking fires, baked bread, and had a conversation with the Angel Gabriel that changed everything. From here she may have become the mother of God, who also walked in this village of Nazareth, and gave us the true bread from heaven.

#WeAreAnglican #compassrose #stgeorgescollege

Sharing perspectives, sharing pain

The news in the past several days has been tragic. Terrorism and violence always bring anxiety, but our context in this land and in our current course carries special significance.

We are just past the midpoint in our Sharing Perspectives course at St. George’s College. We are a group of 28 Muslims, Jews, and Christians, including imams, sheyks, and rabbis as well as students and lay persons, from New Zealand, the U.K., and North America. We are walking together to share our experiences of each others’ holy sites in this land while discussing current issues of faith, education, theology, economics, politics, and holy covenant land.

It’s hard to tell the Jews, Muslims, and Christians apart in this photo, but I will say that some of us had some experienced assistance in putting on a proper head scarf.

We awoke Friday morning to the news that rockets had been fired from Gaza overnight, landing in the outskirts of Tel Aviv. No one was killed in the rocket attacks, and in fact, the firing of the rockets may well have been a result of human error, but that does not change the atmosphere of this high stakes, high tension environment that is the foundation for our discussion and sharing.
We also awoke to the stunning, sickening news of the mass shooting in New Zealand. We ache, just ache, for the 50 Muslims killed in two mosques in Christchurch, allegedly by a white supremacist.  I have come to know many New Zealanders over the past seven months on our courses at St. George’s College, both indigenous first peoples and New Zealanders of European descent.  In my experience, New Zealand can be a place not unlike Israel and Palestine, and many of our Maori, Samoan, and other Pacific Islander friends from New Zealand identified closely with the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ struggle for homeland and self-determination.
The shooting in Christchurch has had a particular and deep impact on our St. George’s course.  Our Sharing Perspectives course is an annual special program for Muslims, Christians, and Jews to visit each other’s holy sites and engage in conversations with local experts in politics, theology, and the current inter-religious context here in Israel and Palestine.  Our friends, an Anglican from Auckland and Muslims from London, have been deeply affected, and we grieve with them.
Yesterday, from the Mosque of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, where Muslims remember that Jesus ascended into heaven just before he was to be crucified, the Precentor of Auckland Cathedral, and an imam from London, denounced the violence and proclaimed their solidarity in a video that they posted for their separate congregations and Christian and Muslim communities world wide.  There are moments of grace like this that are unique to these surroundings, and to this amazing group that is bound together by our experience here.


We are well, but sad. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, both in this fraught and holy city, and in the heavenly Jerusalem of peace and concord. Prosper those who love you. Peace be within your walls, and plenteousness within your palaces.

The Rising of Women: A Living Memory of Barbara Hall

Overnight Saturday, I received the email we’d all been dreading. I woke up to the news that Barbara Hall had lost her courageous battle with cancer. The world without Barbara is a lesser place. Barbara was a larger than life presence – joyful, wittily pragmatic, irreverent, brainy, and hilarious.

Barbara graduated from Skidmore College in 1966 when it was still an all-women’s school and went straight to Harvard Business School. As one of the first women graduates of HBS, she began her working career at National Bank of Detroit in the Mortgage Department, moving to join American Title Insurance Company after meeting and becoming engaged to then NBD bank officer, Richard Hall.

As a young family, the Halls moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, where Barbara began her long career in higher education, first at Sewanee: The University of the South, then the College Board and the Atlanta College of Art before Georgia Tech approached her in 1991 to become their first Associate VP for Enrollment Services. Barbara then joined New York University (NYU) in 2003 as Associate Provost, working on special projects including the American University of Paris, the establishment of NYU’s degree-granting campus in Abu Dhabi, and the merger of NYU and Polytechnic University, now NYU’s School of Engineering. In all of these positions, Barbara was active in the education of international students, particularly those from Africa, and especially those who would have a hand in educating women and girls.

In retirement, Barbara, like a true HBS grad, continued to innovate, focusing her leadership on The Atlanta Girls School, where she guided, encouraged, and celebrated girls preparing for their own lives of leadership and human flourishing. Barbara and Richard were world travelers, active, supportive members of the Compass Rose Society, and active in global mission.

Barbara died, surrounded by her family she loved beyond measure – husband Richard, children Chris, Gretchen, and Ben, and all of their spouses and children – on Saturday, Barbara and Richard’s 51st wedding anniversary.

Chris Hall, Barbara and Richard’s eldest, and eminent chef entrepreneur and chief raconteur (he’s a guy who takes after his mother, after all), wrote to family and friends later that day, Hug those you love, share a meal with your friends and family, share some laughs with a loved one, raise a glass, and tell the absolute worst joke you know.  Nothing would make Mom happier.  

I know my friend Chris is right. I also know I’ll continue to see Barbara’s legacy in the rising of women everywhere, from the Atlanta Girls School, where Barbara devoted leadership time during her retirement, to her long guidance, with husband Richard, of international students in higher education. Emmanuel Bwatta, now dean of the Lake Tanganyika Seminary in the Anglican Church of Tanzania, has long thought of Barbara and Richard as his American parents.

Barbara and Richard attended Emmanuel’s graduation a year ago May at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta. Giving him one of her giant congratulatory hugs, she whispered to Emmanuel make sure you enroll as many women as you can at your seminary. We are here to support you!” The seminary’s first five women seminarians, pictured below with Dean Bwatta, are living memories of Barbara. She would be proud.