AN EMAIL Arrives reminding me that today, the First Saturday of November, is the Antiochian feast for my Patron Saint, Raphael of Brooklyn. His feast is in February in the Russian use, I usually miss this one. Raphael is considered the patron of all the Lost Sheep of North America. I figure I still fit that bill. So I rely on his prayers, no matter how I stray.
By coincidence – which is a pagan word – a book arrives also today, Praying from the Free-Throw Line – for Now, by the late Minka Sura Sprague. I started reading it at dinner tonight, sitting in GyroXpress on Castro. It’s good to hear her voice again in my head. She served as my Spiritual Director, although we never used such language in those days, and she counseled me through a number of things including breakups and my first three semesters of Hebrew at NYU. In the earliest pages of the book I learned the origin of the line she shared with me, In the Old Creation people said “no” unless there was a good reason to say “yes.” In the new creation, we say “yes” unless there is a good reason to say “no.” I also learned, in those same pages, that she suffered from panic attacks. Sometimes debilitating her for days. I never knew that. She used the yes/no mantra in part to avoid making choices out of panic, to lean into her faith in God for strength to do things she could not otherwise do. Since “panic attack” was not a phrase we used in those days, did she impart that mantra to me because she saw that I, too, had the same debilitating fear? In this book she refers to the “divine-design”, a hyphenated phrase just like that. There is no coincidence: luck is for pagans. I have Minka’s wise guidance just when I need her.
I had my final preaching assignment today. I preached what I posted earlier. I left out of that homily the seed that planted it all in my head. Not ten seconds after I was assigned Holy Family Sunday for a homily, this story popped into my head:
Just out of college I took a job as Assistant Manager at the Episcopal Bookstore in NYC. There were two 2nd Avenue storefronts to deck out through the year, especially, of course, at Christmas.
Once I painted the Blessed Virgin on foam core.
Her hands were upraised in prayer and the infant king occupied an oval place in her womb like our window up here above the Creche.
It was a style the Orthodox call “the virgin of the sign”.
I invited customers, coworkers, and neighbors to donate pictures to the window display. All of us defining family in any way – pets, children, spouses, partners – were welcome to participate.
“Let us all be the holy family”, I said.
I got an anonymous letter – remember letters? – from someone complaining that my invitation was too condescending to people who didn’t have “normal” families. They were offended and felt excluded. They had no family. Not even pets. They would never come back to my store.
30 years later I still worry about them.
Minka pulled me into her family as surly as did my Brother Knights mentioned in the homily. Minka’s kids all made comments (conveyed to me by herself) that helped me fine-tune my journey. When I walk, I have my brother Webb and my sister Caroline by my side (they may have other names now… they did when I first met them as well, as did I). We all walk in the New Creation together with their mother and my friend, and St Raphael. He is considered the Patron of the Lost Sheep of America, as I mentioned, and I certainly fit that name!
By the divine-design it’s the 3rd Shabbat of the Annual Cycle. This week’s Torah Reading is called לֶךְ-לְךָ Lech Lecha. It tells the beginning of Abram’s story, called out of Ur of the Chaldees to be a blessing for all people. Lech Lecha is sort of a one-two punch because it means GO YOU GO! But, as the Rabbis point out, it also means “go to yourself“. Abram had to find himself in order to understand God or, more to the point, had to come to God in order to find his true self.
Suddenly I’m hearing the story of the Prodigal Son differently. Luke 15:17 says that the Prodigal “Came To Himself“. We have to come to God to know ourselves fully. We have to wait, trusting in God, to even begin to know who we are. The Lost Sheep of America do not know themselves. They think they do, they demand their “rights” and their identities, but they don’t even know who they are.
Because they are without God and reject his gift to them of their very selves.
We have been saying no no no, when we should say yes yes yes yes yes.
It’s like a tap-dance
Or a new pink dress,
A shit-naive feeling
Some say Good morning
Some say God bless –
Some say Possibly
Some say yes.
Some say Never
Some say Unless
It’s stupid and lovely
To rush into Yes.
What can it mean?
It’s just like life,
One thing to you
One thing to your wife.
Some go local
Some go express
Some can’t wait
To answer yes.
Of strain and stress
The answer may be
No for Yes.
Some like failure
Some like success
Some like Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes.
Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes.