Archive for June, 2008

June 15

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 9:35—10:23

The authority of Jesus’ ministry is today transferred to disciples, ancient and modern.

We meet Jesus on the hinges of the first Gospel, as the flow of the Gospel swings from Lord to apostles. In the announcement of this good news is included a measure of empowerment for each one of us. This is the kind of day on which, for once, for the first time, or for once in a long time, we may be seized by a sense of divine nearness. The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven has come near to you. When that sentence makes a home in a heart, or in the heart of a community, a different kind of life ensues.

Capture in the mind’s eye for a moment the sweep of the gospel read earlier. First. Jesus has been about, teaching and preaching and healing. His compassion abounds. The endless range of needs about him he unblinkingly faces. Second. Jesus calls and sends the disciples, and empowers them, and by extension he empowers us. The gospel will have been read thus, as it is thus read by us. He instructs and directs them in their work, where to go, what to do, how to be. Learning, virtue, and piety together. Start at home, heal the sick, travel light. Third. Jesus expects and forecasts for them a less than utter victory in their work. They are to know how to shake dust from their feet. Fourth. Jesus warns that there will be a price to pay. The discipline that is the hallmark of the disciple here is named. Shall we not remember Jesus ministry? Shall we ignore the call and power offered here? Shall we forget the directions given? Shall we expect turn a deaf ear to the caution about consequences? We pray not. The main sweep of the gospel today is clear as a bell. Jesus gives power to his disciples. Hold that thought for a moment.

The devil is in the details. The material in our reading sends us into foreign territory. We have other words, whether only modern or both modern and more accurate, to describe unclean spirits. We recognize that the list of apostles or disciples differs from other lists. We are uncomfortably aware that Jesus himself, in other Bible pages, goes both to the Gentiles and to the Samaritans, and infamously so. We do not regularly meet leprosy. We carry no gold in our belts, nor silver, nor even copper. We are not pilgrim peregrinators who arrive in town and camp on a doorstep. We sense that the hard distinctions we make between disciples and apostles were not made by Matthew. We do not readily conjure up the vision of Sodom and Gomorrah. We sense that the time of Matthew and its persecutions under Domitian, 90ce, may have colored all or a part of this passage. Most glaringly, we know that the Son of Man did not arrive on a schedule coordinated with visits across the 50 by 150 mile area of Israel. The devil is in the details.

Nor are we to think that we should by tunics or money belts or sandals or travel through towns in Israel or prefer judgment fall on Gomorrah. This is impossible. Moreover, a confusion here will allow us to avoid the clear call of Christ upon our consciences in the main flow of the gospel. For the main point is crystal clear. To follow Jesus means to take up where he and his earliest companions left off.

Do you love Jesus? Then you must do something for him.

Jesus has taught, preached and healed. This ministry he has bequeathed to his disciples, his apostles. We have been seized by the confession of the Church; we are Christians. Now his ministry, this ministry, is ours. Which part of this ministry draws you?

We have come back from Buffalo this week, where flags are at half-mast to honor Tim Russert. Because his city, family, story and background are not unlike our own, I have listened with keen ear to the eulogies offered. Maybe you have too. ‘Mine is a face made for radio’, he quipped. Mine too. The details of life and illness will take some time to understand, but as with our reading today, the main point is very clear. Tim was a man for others. Tim Russert lived the life of a man for others. He brought baseball hats to kids on chemo. He came to weddings and partied, as, you know, ‘that guy’, the one guy everyone remembers from a party. He found ways to make a difference in the lives of poorer kids. He taught his son. He wrote a book about his dad. We do not know what a day will bring, but only that the hour for doing something with our life is always present.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. I could argue with you that healing the sick has a medical degree of meaning, that raising the dead is about pastoral ministry in the Northeast where the church awaits resurrection, that cleansing lepers is about including those on the outside of the social fence, that casting out demons is reminding people not to fear, not to fear, after 9/11, not to fear. You could, rightly, challenge the interpretation.

Where does your passion meet the world’s need?

What are you ready to risk doing, to plan for the worst, hope for the best, then do your most, and leave all the rest?

What are you going to give yourself to, to offer your ability, affability, and availability?

Who calls you, who called you, to your own real life, your vocation? We began this spring to gather people here at the University to ask them this. Who gave you your sense of direction, vocation in life? Robert Pinsky revitalized poetry by asking communities to gather and read their favorites. We are trying to revitalize vocation by asking communities to gather and remember their mentors. Tim Russert had Big Russ. What about you? The world opens a bit when a teacher and disciple connect. Here are three examples.


Maybe we need to remember Albert Schweitzer.

A child organ prodigy, a youthful New Testament scholar, a young principal in his Alsatian theological seminary, a man whose books and articles I used with profit in my own dissertation a few years ago, Schweitzer’s life changed on the reading of a Paris Mission Society Magazine.

As a scholar, he wrote: He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word, ‘Follow me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.’ (QHJ, 389).

What he wrote of Jesus became his life. He left organ and desk, studied medicine, and practiced in Africa for 35 years, calling his philosophy, ‘a reverence for life’.

Vocation leads to God. A decision about vocation leads to nearness to the divine.


Maybe we need to remember the young woman from Rockford Illinois, Jane Addams. She grew up 130 years ago, in a time and place unfriendly, even hostile, to the leadership that women might provide. But somehow she discovered her mission in life. And with determination she traveled to the windy city and set up Hull House, the most far reaching experiment in social reform that American cities had ever seen. Hull House was born out of a social vision, and nurtured through the generosity of one determined woman. Addams believed fervently that we are responsible for what happens in the world. So Hull House, a place of feminine community and exciting spiritual energy, was born. Addams organized female labor unions. She lobbied for a state office to inspect factories for safety. She built public playgrounds and staged concerts and cared for immigrants. She became politically active and gained a national following on the lecture circuit. She is perhaps the most passionate and most effective advocate for the poor that our country has ever seen.

Addams wrote: “The blessings which we associate with a life of refinement and cultivation must be made universal if they are to be permanent…The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in midair, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

Yet it was a Rochesterian who, for me, explained once the puzzle of Jane Addams’ fruitful generosity. This was the historian Christopher Lasch. Several times in the 1980’s I thought of driving over here to visit him. But I never took the time, and as you know, he died seven years ago. Lasch said of Addams, “Like so many reformers before her, she had discovered some part of herself which, released, freed the rest.”

Is there a part of your soul ready today to be released, that then will free the rest of you?

Vocation leads to God.


Maybe we need to remember Howard Thurman. The first page of his autobiography announces today’s gospel, that Jesus empowers his disciples, whose vocations lead to God:

At the end of my first year at the Rochester Theological Seminary, I became assistant to the minister of the First Baptist Church of Roanoke, Virginia. I was to assume the duties as pastor during the month that the minister and his family were away on vacation. I would be on my own. On my first night alone in the parsonage I was awakened by the telephone. The head nurse of the local Negro hospital asked, ‘May I speak with Dr. James?’. I told her he was away. ‘Dr. James is the hospital chaplain’, she explained. ‘There is a patient here who is dying. He is asking for a minister. Are you a minister?’

In one kaleidoscopic moment I was back again at an old crossroad. A decision of vocation was to be made here, and I felt again the ambivalence of my life and my calling. Finally, I answered. ‘Yes, I am a minister’.

‘Please hurry’, she said, ‘or you’ll be too late’.

In a few minutes I was on my way, but in my excitement and confusion I forgot to take my Bible. At the hospital, the nurse took me immediately into a large ward. The dread curtain was around the bed. She pulled it aside and directed me to stand opposite her. The sick man’s eyes were half closed, his mouth open, his breathing labored. The nurse leaned over and, calling him by name, said, ‘The minister is here’.

Slowly he sought to focus his eyes first on her, and then on me. In a barely audible voice he said, ‘Do you have something to say to a man who is dying? If you have, please say it, and say it in a hurry.’

I bowed my head, closed my eyes. There were no words. I poured out the anguish of my desperation in one vast effort. I felt physically I was straining to reach God. At last, I whispered my Amen.

We opened our eyes simultaneously as he breathed, ‘Thank you. I understand.’ He died with his hand in mine.

Vocation leads to God.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand when your passion meets another’s need. Jesus empowers his disciples. Vocation leads to God.

June 8

A Day in June

By Marsh Chapel

Lectionary Readings

Preface: Light and Growth

And what is so rare as a day in June?

You are children of the light, children of the day. In the daytime of our active living, the daylight of our active yearning, we are present this morning. This is the season of growth. The liturgical seasons, laden with substantial significance they are, need not eclipse the real presence of the natural seasons. It is the natural seasons which provoke some of the questions to and toward which the liturgical seasons provide responses. June is the season of promise, of planting, of budding, of growth, including growth in faith.

And what is so rare, asked J R Lowell, as a day in June?

On this Day in June we trace four daytime stories and find three lessons for spiritual growth. Four stories and three lessons…

Four Stories: Abram, David, Paul, Jesus


Abram is given the courage to leave. Under the genus and genius of the courage to be one may find, or be found by, the species and specific courage to leave. When you most need the courage to leave, you will most appreciate its gift to you, by grace. People do not always find the timely courage to leave. For all the right and all the good reasons you can think of, sad to say, people do not shake the dust from their feet as frequently as you think…because to do so is difficult. Yet there come times when you ought to leave. Fortunately, Abram had Sarah along with him to put steel in his spine.

One of our public figures has recently taken a very public leave of his church. Separation has its time, a time there is for everything. Oh, I do not dispute the thundercloud of the gathering retort that it does no good to pull up the carrot every ten minutes to see if it is growing. But, you know, life is short, and when things are really wrong, harmfully wrong, dangerously wrong, it is time to pack. That is a form of the principle of reform, as messy as it makes life, and religious life. Messy is preferable to hellish.

Go. Go! From country…From kindred…From parent’s house…Go. Do so with grace, with tenderness, with humility, with suffering, but do what you need to do to breathe. Your suffocation profits no one.

Our passage from Genesis is the true genesis of Genesis. Genesis 12 opens the Bible. Brueggemann catches a part of the truth: “This cluster of promises becomes the originary principle for all that follows” (OTCCI, 41). He misses the heteronomy lurking behind both theonomy and autonomy. The word, that is, is a word both spoken and heard, and without the hearing the speaking does not carry. The first divine word heard in the human community of faith is…Go! New England struggles with the history of immigration which is our heritage. On the one hand we honor pilgrims, puritans, and various waves of arrivals here in the newer world. On the other hand, their own sense of journey, courage to leave, capacity to change, willingness to risk with responsibility is sometimes lost on us.

A settled minister, a settled Christian, a settled person of faith is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron–like ‘jumbo shrimp’ or ‘United Methodist’.

Go. Shoo! Go. In these verses which originate the story of Israel, all the rest is based on a decision to pull up stakes, sell the farm, list the house, put the furniture on e-bay, buy a storage unit, and say goodbye. A wandering, wondering Aramean was our father. Trace backwards the account of today’s Holy Scripture: The cumulative blessing of all the families of the earth depends on itinerancy. The blessing and protection of the faith family and community depends on itinerancy. The growth of faith in community depends on itinerancy. The honor of one’s name depends on itinerancy. The making of a great nation depends on itinerancy. The inheritance of land, space, promise, future—all these too depend on itinerancy. So, Abram went. Incidentally, the rest of the Biblical narrative becomes possible only on the heels of Abram’s departure, his courage to leave.

Do you need to summon a form of the courage to leave this week?


David did not write all of the Psalms, but he wrote some of them, and his name is legendarily connected to them all. I love the place David holds in our Bible, David the hymn writer. David may have started singing with Bathsheba, but he concluded his songs with songs of praise to the Living God. In New England we have amnesia about hymns. Jonathan Winthrop may have sung in the rolling surf of the Massachusetts Bay. The Puritans may have chanted their quiet hymns of faith. The tunes of Irish folk songs and Italian love poems may have made their way into our worship. But friends, across these six states united by a common love of the Red Sox, otherwise known as New England, we have forgotten a bit what it sounds like and feels like to sing hymns with six or seven hundred people in the same room. We have not taught our children to sing the four lines of harmony. We have not practiced the presence of God in the power of singing. I grant exceptions. But when people come out of Easter worship saying, ‘Wow. That was great. So many people. Such hymns.’, it is a measure of what we have forgotten. We could have that experience every week, if we all got out of bed on Sunday. We live in earshot, by the way, of Fenway park, and I do hear the festive tones of ‘Sweet Caroline’, win or lose, rain or shine
, at the seventh inning. It sounds good. So I know you can sing. If you know the words. If you like the music. If you have others around you to guide and support. If you feel the moment.

Notice the specific amendments in Psalm 33 (a highly memorizable passage by the way). A new song… Played skillfully…On the strings… with loud shouts …rejoice…praise…make melody… with a ten string harp…

Notice the specific glories in Psalm 33 ( a highly memorizable passage by the way). Our soul waits for the lord. He is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him. We trust his holy name.

“God looks down upon humanity, searching their inmost being. What is in men’s hearts?’ (E Leslie, 86).

The heart of the Bible is hymnody. It is the Psalter, the hymnbook of the Bible that is its core and heart. Paul, Augustine, Luther, Wesley—all based their calls to faith on the book of Psalms. And David is remembered for many things, but he is revered as the legendary giver of the Psalms.


Abram had Sarah, and David had Bathsheba and who knows who else. But I cannot quite find a woman to set alongside Paul. Yes, I know about Priscilla and Aquila… Still…Perhaps Paul’s evocation, early and late, of the Holy Spirit herself might round out his story for us on this Day in June. It is the Spirit that frees Paul to leave his own religious heritage. It is the Spirit that opens Paul to another way of reading about Abram. It is the Spirit that settles into Paul’s mind the crucial centrality of promise. It is the Spirit that empowers Paul to lay down the law and pick up the Gospel, to lay down Torah and pick up grace, to lay down the experience of others, and to pick up his own. The law—any and all—is finally the experience of others. Faith is your experience not that of others. That is why faith is so utterly and incomparably personal.

Our reading again captures Paul’s sermon in Galatians, though most of the rest of Romans serves to reinterpret Galatians. We see the unvarnished Paul here—law or faith, there is no middle ground. Have you begun with the Spirit to end with the flesh? Paul calls us out. Your faith will not be yours lived in the shadow of another’s observance. To thine own self be true (that is not in the Bible by the way). Faith that is not utterly personal is not faith. Faith is personal and love is responsible.

How do we understand faith working through love? If we are not careful a kind of fatalism can creep over us, whether sacramental or biblical. For to read out only three verses from Romans 4, and leave them hanging in mid-air, out of context, out of grounding, out of place in the larger sweep—and a large sweep it truly is—of the Epistle to the Romans is not to understand but to misunderstand. Paul affirms faith, and justification by faith. But Paul also affirms faith, and the obedience of faith. Romans 3-8 has to be read within earshot Romans 12-16. Faith is faith working through love. Faith is personal, love is responsible. Faith means work.

Bill Muehl spoke once about Romans 4. (His is a name I have heard from mutual friends, but this one sermon is my only personal contact with him.) Muehl brings a tough, Pauline argument to our Pauline passage. He is trying to find his way through law and grace in a way that is real. He remembers a TV show in which a character says, of a woman of ill repute, ‘Prostitute is what she does not who she is’. Over several pages or minutes Muehl tears apart this false dichotomy and this false interpretation of Romans 4. He tears at and tears apart the false separation of being and doing, of who we say we are and what we do says we are, what we say says we are, how we act says we are. You become what you do. His point: personal faith is about what we do and who we are. I love his concluding illustration:

Some years ago a group of parents stood in the lobby of a nursery school waiting to pick up their children after the last class before Christmas recess. As the kids ran from the classrooms, each one held in his or her hands the brightly wrapped package that was the surprise, the gift on which the kids had been working for some weeks leading up to Christmas. One little boy tried to put on his coat, carry the surprise, wave to his parents all at the same time, and the inevitable happened. He slipped and fell, and the surprise broke with an obvious ceramic crash on the tile floor. For a moment, he was too stunned to speak or cry, but then he sat up in inconsolable lament. Well, his father, in an effort to comfort his son, but also to try to mitigate the embarrassment of those present, went over to him and patted him on the head and said, ‘Now son, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not important son. It really doesn’t matter’. But the child’s mother, somewhat wiser in such affairs, went to the child’s side, knelt on the floor, took her son in her arms and said, ‘Oh, but it does matter. It matters a great deal’. And she wept with the child.

Our God is not the careless parent, who casually pats us on the head and says…You are justified by your faith. What happens to you and what you do, these things are not important at all. Our God is the parent who falls to the ground beside us, takes up our torn and bleeding spirits, and says, ‘Oh, but it does matter. It matters eternally.’ (Muehl, “It Matters Greatly”, 262 Sermons from Duke Chapel).


Now we come to Jesus. Across the gospels, Jesus’ attention to women is manifest, and theirs to him. Across the gospels, Jesus’ attention to those needing healing is manifest, and theirs to him. Jesus healed. Those who touch Him are healed. Those whom He touches are healed. Matthew affirms a code of holiness, but even in Matthew, where holiness and compassion collide, it is compassion that survives. ‘I enjoy mercy’, says the Lord. Jesus heals on the way, and at the end of the road. Two healings are wrapped together in our passage, a resounding report of the power in Divine Love to heal earthly hurt. Do all the go
od you can!

You may not be able to say, with such amazing grace, ‘Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well’, as did Jesus. But then, you are not Jesus. Yet one good, healing good, you can do this week is to let someone else know of a time in your own life when disappointment gave way to grace, when dislocation became the doorway to freedom, when what seemed like bad news turned out to be pretty good news after all.

Proust: So manifold are our interests in life that it is not uncommon that, on a single occasion, the foundations of a happiness which does not yet exist are laid down simultaneously with aggravations of a grief from which we are still suffering (RDTP, 292).

Perhaps our familiarity with this signature passage in the Gospel of Matthew occludes our view of its powerful call to healing. The Risen Christ, who suffered Golgotha and outwitted the tomb of meaningless death, passes by. Your Christ is passing, your Christ is passing, your passing by shouts the Gospel! One earnestly seeking healing reaches up and touches the garment of Pardon Personified. Do we notice—a generation of political theology to the contrary notwithstanding—Jesus’ attention to a ruler, to authority, to power, to leadership? Do we reckon that this leader—a generation of biblical theology to the contrary notwithstanding—may not have been of synagogue, in the redactor’s imagination, but of empire? (The word for ruler is archon, as valent a Greco-Roman term as one could imagine.

Where do ordinary hands reach out, desperate for pardon? I listen on the esplanade, as young mothers swing their toddlers. I listen at the ballpark, for conversations over hotdogs. I listen with guests at the dinner table. I listen at the coffee shop. I listen to talk radio. I ‘listen’ to common letters to the editor.

The paper yesterday brought this paragraph, a hand from the heart of a sickened people and broken land reaching up to touch the passing Christ:

Democracy can commit not just blunders but horrendous wrongful acts with disastrous consequences for another nation…(Our) chosen leaders abused the power of their offices to conquer and devastate another country that was not a threat to us. How can we redeem ourselves? What do we owe the Iraqi people? What can we say to the families of our dead and wounded soldiers? Can we continue to promote the virtues of democracy to the rest of the world? And we still have the daunting problem of extricating ourselves from the scene of the crime…(Benjamin Solomon, NYT, 6/7/08). redeem ourselves? We cannot.

How to be redeemed?

By reaching to the Person of Pardon, and allowing our prayers to be conformed to prayers of pardon, and presenting our lives to be shaped as examples of pardon. Do you know God to be a pardoning God? No promise without peace, no peace without pardon. Pardon us our sin as we pardon those who sin against us…

Itinerancy. Hymnody. Personal Faith. Compassionate Pardon. A church that could methodically convince its leadership to itinerate, its people to sing lustily, its preaching to emphasize personal faith, and its laity to heal every earthly hurt—imagine such a church! A church that could methodically energize a global network of clergy to move wherever need and talent meet, that could gather on every hill and molehill a thronging chorus of gracious singing, a church that could preach like the wind about the places in the heart, a church that could assign every baptized soul a healing ministry—imagine such a church! A church that could methodically spend itself in sudden moves and dislocations, in hymns of joyous beauty sung with gusto, in words read from the Bible and spoken from the heart, in service to the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame—imagine such a church! A church methodically built on these four stories of Abram, David, Paul and Jesus—imagine such a church! Itinerant ministers. Thunderous hymns. Personal preaching. Healing compassion. Hm…I wonder what we would call such a denomination? It would certainly be ‘Christianity in earnest’…

Coda: Three Lessons

Earnest souls, for our spiritual journey this week, what lessons do we learn, people of the day, in the season of growth in faith—what lessons do we learn on this Day in June?

1. First, there are many ways to keep faith. All four of these stories are utterly distinct, variegated, different, multifarious. Your manner of faithful living may not approximate any single other. Abram moved. David sang. Paul trusted. Jesus healed. And you? There are many ways of keeping faith.

2. Second, the expression of faith changes with the context of its time and space. There is serious discontinuity, from book to book and age to age, in the private and public practice of faith. J R Lowell’s other poem also is worth remembering. New occasions do teach new duties.

3. Third, over time there are lasting features of faithful living. One is the courage to leave. Another is the desire to sing. Another is the personal acceptance of responsibility. Another is the attention to suffering. Real religion is mobile, choral, real, and caring. With tender courage, in loving responsibility, let us sing:

(Oldest extant church hymn, Oxyrynchus Papyri 1786)

Together all the eminent of God

Let th
em be silent

Let the luminous stars not…

Let them hold back, rushing of winds, founts of all the roaring rivers.

And as we hymn Father, Son and Holy Spirit, let all the powers answer

Amen, Amen, strength, praise, and glory forever to God

The Sole giver of all good things

Amen, Amen

June 1

The Remembrance of Things Past: Communion Meditation

By Marsh Chapel

Matthew 7: 21-29

Today’s Gospel is the Earliest Memory of a verse of Scripture I have. I am four, playing in the desert sand outside a military base housing unit in Las Vegas. It is hot and hotter. The wind blows through the yard and sand, stinging the face and eyes. I am displeased that something built has been blown down. I hear my mother’s voice: ‘A wise man…’

You should Memorize. Memorize: the 10 Commandments, the Books of Bible, the Beatitudes, the Apostles Creed, Psalms (2), Romans 12: 9-13, Hymns (2), Lord’s Prayer.

Both imperatives like this and personal memories like these are verboten for some good reason in preaching text books. The indicative of God’s grace should precede and eclipse any imperative to human behavior, like the command to memorize. The personal illustration threatens to split the consciousness of the hearer, as the Gospel is announced. Mea culpa. It is good that we have the Eucharist today, for the sins of the preacher, in imperative and memory, to be cleansed.

Memories of breakfast are rare in the Holy Scripture. Famously the Gospel of John is concluded by breakfast with Jesus. The Psalmist exclaims that joy will come with the morning, which tarries through the night, but there is no morning meal mentioned in Psalm 33. Jesus shares meals, but they tend to be evening meals, as in a borrowed upper room, or luncheon meals, as with Zaccheus, or midday feasts, as in the 5000 feedings. It would be unfair to declare that the Bible dislikes breakfast, and yet breakfast does not appear to be a major biblical theme.

William Sloane Coffin once described the breakfast this way: ‘the worst hour of the day, the worst time of the day, the worst meal of the day, and everybody at their worst’. (Riverside Sermons, pamphlet) He presumably wrote this sour accolade early in the day. Maybe at the breakfast table.

I happen to like the breakfast hour. Coffee and a real paper newspaper and a time to think about the day. Yet I must admit to and accept the reigning judgment, biblical and experiential, that breakfast is a wholly unholy hour for many.

At age 13, on June 5, 1968, I can dimly remember breakfast. Siblings scraping at the elbow sharpen any memory, like iron sharpens iron. June and its examinations sharpen the memory, for of the writing of books and exams there is no end. A swirl of energy, cacophony, juice and cereal settles the memory of that morning. It was Proust, in THE REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, who best taught us to measure and mingle memory with taste….

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea. (RDTP, 113)

So much recollection from a little cookie! So maybe breakfast has something memorable to offer.

That June 5 1968 breakfast, though, carries another valence. The phone rang amid pancakes and juice, sometime close to 7am. My dad was traveling that week, attending a conference in Chicago. He would call sometimes from the road, usually to talk to my mother. It was then a surprise to have the phone passed down to me.

“I know how much Bobby Kennedy has meant to you. So I wanted to make sure you heard, and heard from me so that we could talk, that he was shot last night. This is a terrible tragedy, a tragedy set among others. It will take many years for us to absorb its significance, and more to still to understand it, if we ever do understand it. Life will go on, under the aspect of a changed world. We can talk more when I get home.”

There is remembrance of things past which illumines and magnifies our current experience. We live out of the unforeseen, and we understand out of the unknown.

Thursday we played a recording, for the high school students of the Boston University Academy, RFK’s impromptu speech on the evening of MLKing’s death, a brief speech torn out of Kennedy’s personal reading and experience. You can ‘google’ it so I need not repeat it, except its key lines:

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: “Even in our
sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

We come to the table of empowerment, belonging and meaning, the table of remembrance of things past. Take and eat. An imperative to be sure. Do this in remembrance. Personal experience to be sure.