Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Godric

Nearly a thousand years ago, there lived a man named Godric. 

He had been a seaman and merchant for many years when he cast anchor at the Island of Lindisfarne. There he had an encounter with St. Cuthbert, an event with such a profound effect that thereafter Godric devoted his life to Christian service. No matter that at the time, St. Cuthbert had been dead for nearly 400 years.

After many religious pilgrimages, Godric became a hermit on the banks of the River Wear—County Durham, England—where he spent the last 60 years of his life. He founded a hermitage dedicated to John the Baptist. Adapting a spartan lifestyle much like we might imagine for John, he lived outside and slept on the ground. Many men sought out this simple man for advice, including Thomas Becket and Pope Alexander III. Godric died on May 21, 1170, at the age of about 105.

The River Wear

I have read two accounts of the life of Godric. One was written by his contemporary, a monk named Reginald of Durham. Reginald visited Godric often and wrote down the history of his life. The other account is Godric, a novel written by Frederick Buechner, published in 1981. 

The first account—Reginald’s—presents Godric as a man so devout you get the impression that as a baby he spat up holy water and raised his pet gerbil from the dead. In Buechner’s novel, you get a very different picture—of Godric as a sinner, deeply in need of grace and deeply grateful to have found it.




"Art is a lie that makes us realize truth," said Picasso—and I must confess that I find more of the truth, more of the man in the novel than in the saint story told by the monk. As a monk, Reginald had trained himself to tune out the world around him, but Buechner, living 900+ years later, is an artist who has tuned in to the twelfth century world of Britain under Norman rule and tuned in to the authentic voice of a man living at that time. . . .


  • The heavy air was hard to breathe and swarmed with biting nits. Offal floated in the Tiber where poor folk drank. Dark windows stared at us like empty sockets. Rough stairs and archways beckoned us to evil courts. The reek of dung was everywhere. 
  • Here are the sounds of Wear. It rattles stone on stone. It sucks its teeth. It sings. It hisses like the rain. It roars. It laughs. It claps its hands. Sometimes I think it prays. 
  • What's prayer? It's shooting shafts into the dark. What mark they strike, if any, who's to say? It's reaching for a hand you cannot touch. 
                                    --quotes from Godric

Finchale Priory on the site
of Godric's hermitage

I celebrate this "unofficial saint" on this, the day of his death, because of the amazing portrayal in Buechner's Pulitzer-Prize-nonimated novel. A New York Times reviewer called Godric "Funny, touching, tender and compassionate . . .unforgettable." It challenges our prim, stained-glass images of holiness and shatters our pompous religiosity. It truly is "art that makes us realize truth."



13th century manuscript of Godric's Songs,
the oldest songs in English
with the original settings


Friday, May 9, 2014

For Special Moms

On Sunday, we honor our mothers, those dedicated women who fed us, changed our diapers, gave us soup and sympathy when we were sick, put band-aids on our boo-boos, comforted us when the goldfish died, quizzed us on our spelling words for school, and baked patriotic-themed cupcakes on short notice (because we forgot) for the Girl Scout bake sale. We can never say enough about these awesome moms.

But although all moms are amazing, on this Mother's Day, I’d like to honor some special moms in special circumstances. Because some moms are even more amazing.



Single moms. Moms who have no choice but to leave their newborns in daycare while they work to support their families. Moms who work all day at a diner or a doctor's office and then come home at night and make supper, supervise homework, and do all the mom-stuff until bedtime and beyond. Moms who never get a break and never get enough sleep. Moms who have to be part mom, part dad. Moms who go hungry so that the children will be fed.



Moms of children with disabilities. This is a special company of moms who have had to rethink their dreams and plans, wrestle with huge theological questions, and turn sacrifice into a daily way of life. Moms who stand up to doctors, school boards, government programs, busy-body neighbors, and even the good church people, to do whatever it takes to help their children with special needs.



Moms who adopt at-risk kids. For those saint-like moms who are willing to be foster or adoptive parents to kids who have been neglected or abandoned by their own families — kids with behavior problems, fetal-alcohol syndrome, or AIDS — kids who have fallen through the cracks of our educational system and social programs. Moms who choose to give their love where it is needed most.



Moms who grieve the loss of a child. I know a woman who lost one of her twins at birth. Some people couldn’t understand why she didn’t just rejoice in the surviving child and get on with her life. A child who dies leaves a forever hole in your heart, and yet, somehow these moms do "get on with it," for the sake of the family, while carrying a secret ache inside and sometimes crying when no one is watching.



Moms with disabilities — moms with multiple sclerosis, leukemia, depression — moms who still strive to be good parents, even though tying a shoe lace or doing laundry is much harder for them than for other people. Moms who put on a brave face and make a superhuman effort to be there for their kids. Moms who give all they can — and then give some more.

These special moms deserve our respect, our appreciation, and a helping hand when we can give it. This Mother's Day, remember the special moms in your family, in your church, in your neighborhood. Let's give them a listening ear and an open heart.

They are Heaven's royalty, queens with invisible crowns. And great is their reward!




Saturday, May 3, 2014

Best Moms of Mythology - 2014

Welcome — ladies and gentlemen, gods and goddesses, monsters and mythic creatures  to the annual B-MOM Awards. Yes, it’s time once again to celebrate the Best Moms of Mythology.

[The crowd roars, brays, snorts, and stomps.]

And here she is now, our first nominee for 2014, the one, the only. . .Helen of Troy, most beautiful woman in the world (not counting Jennifer Lopez), even after giving birth to her darling daughter Iphigenia. 



You no doubt read in the tabloids about Helen’s marriage to King Menelaus (rhymes with “chaos”) of Sparta and how the King called all his nobles to a council, making them promise to come to his defense should anything unfortunate befall his blushing bride. Paris, prince of Troy, took one look at Helen and was smitten. He abducted Helen, and Menelaus and his cronies fought the Trojan War to get her back.

If only Paris hadn't posted this picture of the abduction
to Facebook, he might have gotten away with it.

There was blood. There was pain. There were swords clashing and women screaming and a lot of grunting and cussing. It was glorious. . .for the Spartans, who really dug that sort of thing.

So let’s hear it for “the face that launched a thousand ships”—Helen of Troy!

[Whistles and cat calls!]

And now, twirling her dark Dior cloak, here comes Nyx, daughter of Chaos and Darkness, and mother of Destiny! And um, also mother of Fate, Death, Sleep, Pain, Retribution, Deceit, Friendship, Old Age, and Strife. We can only imagine the stretch marks that cloak conceals, and we’re guessing that’s why she opted out of the swimsuit competition earlier today.



Would you believe it? Nyx — aka "Night"  is also the Mother of Day. Nyx resides in an upscale condo in the realm of Tartarus, with a panoramic view of the dark. When Day enters Tartarus, Nyx leaves. When Nyx returns, Day leaves, making family reunions rather problematic.

Purple and red and ready for bed. . .let’s give it up for…yawwwwn. . . Nyx! Why am I so darn sleepy all of a sudden?

[Snoring sounds echo through the hall.]

Ah, and here’s the charming Thetis. Rumor has it that at one time Zeus himself was sending this girl flowers and candy grams, but she spurned his advances. However, when Zeus found out that Thetis was fated to bear a son mightier than his father, he gave her as a bride to Peleus, a heck of a guy but — alas — a mere mortal.



When a son was born to Thetis and Peleus, Thetis became the Patron Saint of Overprotective Moms. Grasping the infant by one foot, she dipped baby Achilles in the river Styx to make him invulnerable. When a seer said her son would die in battle, she disguised the poor kid as a girl and sent him to an island in the Aegean.  When he enlisted in the army anyway, she asked the blacksmith Hephaestus to make a special sword and shield for divine protection.

Despite all this smothering, Achilles fought valiantly in the Trojan War and never again wore a dress (as far as we know). But alas, Thetis had forgotten one eensy little thing. When she dipped her baby in the Styx, she held him by the heel, and so his heel was unprotected. But only his heel, right? Sadly, Achilles bit the dust after Paris’ arrow pierced his heel. I mean, what are the odds?

Hey, at least she tried. So put your hands together for Thetis!

[Faint claps. Some people are still snoring.]

And now, the amazing Leto, goddess of Motherhood — a Lady Titan, bride of Zeus, and mother of famous twins. You will recall that in the talent show, she knit a pair of booties in 12 seconds flat. Very impressive.



When the goddess Hera discovered that Leto was pregnant and that Zeus was the daddy, she got all puffy-eyed and red in the face. She was like "Leto, I forbid you to give birth anywhere on 'terra firma'  the mainland or any island of the sea." Which is just about anywhere and everywhere. Leto fled from town to town, with the jealous Hera in hot pursuit, always driving her on. (It might have helped if Leto had disabled the GPS in her cell phone….)

Now Leto had read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but “pursuit by an angry goddess” wasn’t in the table of contents. The book said to drink plenty of water. But in Lycia, Leto tried to drink water from a pond, but the peasants stirred up the muddy bottom to make the water undrinkable. (Leto turned them into frogs and kept wandering.) All she wanted was a place to sit in a rocker and knit booties. Finally, Leto was received on Delos, a floating island (and therefore a legal loophole), where she was able to have her babies, Apollo and Artemis.



So how about a nice Olympian hand clap for Lady Leto.

[Loud thunderclap! Crowd stirs and begins singing "We will, we will rock you."]

Thanks for that gesture, Zeus. I think the judges are ready to. . . wait! Oh no! It can't be! Hera has entered the theater and she looks mad. Um, somebody call security! I'm sorry, Ma'am, but you can't just. . . .well, maybe you can. She’s up on the stage, face to face with Leto. 

Hera's driver's license photo

Hera has a sword, and Leto is unarmed. Wait. Apollo has drawn his bow to defend his mother, but can he save her in time?

Oooooooh. That had to hurt. Leto just stabbed Hera with a knitting needle. Hera is crying and wearing a pouty face.

Good jab, Leto. Revenge at last. And our judges have reached their decision. Leto wins this year’s B-MOM Award! I think the bootie-knitting thing really put her over the top.

Achilles' driver's license photo

Congratulations, Leto. Here’s your trophy. 

[Angry shouts, hooves trampling, harpies shrieking...]

And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for the usual free-for-all that always follows this event. Achilles, could I borrow that shield, please? No, really. Give it to me. . . .Cut to commercial. Now!