Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saying Grace

A sermon preached at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, DC, the First Sunday after Christmas, December 27, 2009.

John 1:16

“From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Grace is not a peculiarly Christian word, nor an especially Christian concept. One can experience grace, see grace, recognize grace, act with grace, dance with grace, exercise grace, and say grace without being noticeably religious at all. But grace does occupy a very unique place in the Christian vocabulary. In fact, I would go so far as to say that one cannot tell the Christian story without talking about grace, or some other word (if there is one) that means the same thing.

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us,” Anne Lamott writes. I would hardly say that her sentence, good as it is, in any way competes with the majestic prologue of St. John’s Gospel. Yet it has a certain affinity with the song that John is singing. John takes a page from Greek philosophy and identifies Jesus with the eternal Logos, or Word. The Word, or λογος, had long been thought to be the animating principle in the universe. John thinks of it as the tonally perfect expression, the complete utterance of God, the creating word which God had spoken, “Let there be light!” That Word, by which all things came into being, became flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth. John pictures this whole cosmic saga as a story of grace. Imagine that the λογος, or Word, contains the entire energy of the universe. Imagine that the Word is the power which we know as light. Imagine that the Word is the mysterious essence of life itself. And imagine that that is only the beginning! Packed, as it were, into the Word is every ounce of mercy in the cosmos, unfathomable love, the center and extent of justice, not to mention creativity, wholeness, freedom, peace, joy. And still we have not even begun to name all the things the Word-made-flesh embodies. We don’t have to go much further before we begin to get the picture: the Word is God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things were made by the Word and without the Word absolutely nothing came into existence.

If you are used to thinking that Jesus is something of a super-human hero, a kind of oversized friend who, as the bumper sticker says, is your co-pilot keeping you on track and preventing you from getting lost, then this language will strike you as at least a bit strange, because it is so much bigger than your Jesus ever is. And if, on the other hand, you have your doubts as to whether Jesus was really all that special to begin with—hardly someone who could seriously be called “Son of God”—then this language will likely seem to you nothing short or preposterous. But what the Fourth Evangelist would say to both of you—well, to all of us really—is that there are two things we don’t want to miss. One of them is the astonishing glory of the great God of the universe and the other is that God has come to meet us in the person of Jesus. And, to use Anne Lamott’s phrase, God has come in Jesus to meet us as we are, but not to leave us there.

Grace upon grace. More grace than you ever dreamed of. Grace inexhaustible. But you must be saying, “Well, it all sounds good, but what is it, this grace?” Someone has said that grace is what God gives us that we don’t deserve and mercy is what God gives us instead of what we do deserve.” It is a little like Mark Twain’s saying that "heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” In the Christian vocabulary, grace means God’s favor, unearned and undeserved. Grace is a free gift, no strings attached. That is what is so odd, and ultimately so hard to swallow about grace. Grace comes when we least expect it. Grace surprises us—it has to, or else it wouldn’t be grace. We are accustomed to having to pay for anything that is worth anything, and there is a part of us that simply cannot believe that God would actually give us the world without charging us for it. But we have received from God the Word’s fullness grace upon grace upon grace and never paid a cent for it.

One day in about 1982, into my office in Newtown, Connecticut, walked Frank Johnson. Frank was in his 80’s, and had long since retired to his native Newtown from St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. “Can the church use a piano?” he asked me. My heart sank. I knew what was coming. He probably had some old Chickering upright, badly out of tune with yellowing ivory keys.

“Well, I rather doubt it, Frank,” I said. “We have a piano in the church, one in the choir room, and one in the children’s chapel. I don’t know where we would put another one.” His face fell. Wanting to extend the conversation a tad, I went on, “What kind of piano do you have?”

“Oh,” he said, “It’s a Steinway grand. It’s an antique that was in my wife’s family. It’s only problem is that its sounding board has a crack in it that needs to be repaired. It was reconditioned a few years back. About 1928, I think.”

My eyes widened. “Frank!” I exclaimed, holding on to my seat, “A Steinway grand, eh? I’ve never wanted anything so much as a Steinway grand. It’s about the only thing I’d consider going to hell for. Let’s talk. I might want to buy it from you.”

“Oh,” he said, “if you want it, it’s yours.”

“Oh, no. No. No way. I mean I couldn’t. No. Let’s talk. I’ll come take a look. We’ll talk. No, no way. I… no.”

“Oh, it’s yours if you want it. Come, take a look.”

So I went out to Frank’s house, sat down, played something in A-flat, a lush key that brought out the richness of the bass of the instrument,” and said that I would be delighted to own such an instrument. But,” I added, “you’ve got to let me think about it. Name your price.”

Frank looked at me from behind his round tortoise shell glasses. His gray eyes misted a bit. He swallowed. “It’s a gift,” he said. “My gift to you. We inherited it. I have had it all these years since Edith died. I want you to have it.” I looked down. I stroked the ebony.

That’s grace.

“A gift, eh?” I could hear the voice of my mother saying, “Son, if someone gives you something, including a compliment, the thing to do is to accept it. Just say thank you.”

“Thank you, Frank,” I said. “Thank you.”

And that is the other part of grace. In English we can’t hear or see it as well as we could in Spanish or Italian. “Gracias,” or “grazie,” would tip us off that grace and gratitude are inseparably linked. It is not that there is a charge for grace—not if it really grace. But there is an appropriate response. And that is to accept gratefully and graciously the gift. St. John’s calls it “believing.” “As many as believed him, to them he gave power to become the children of God.” But by believing he means something quite different from what you might think. To believe does not mean to give intellectual assent to an idea or a proposition. To believe means to give one’s love to (someone), and is related to the word meaning “dear.” Ancient forms of the word “believe” mean literally to give one’s heart.

Which helps to explain what grace has to do with Christmas. From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. So many gifts, and not just on Christmas morning. They keep coming and coming and coming, like multiplying bread and fish miraculously feeding multitudes. The supply never dries up. And we are left wondering,

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
(Christina Rosetti)

© Frank G. Dunn, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God's Body

A sermon preached at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, DC, Christmas Eve, 2009.

Luke 2:1-20

Of all the religions on the face of the earth—old, new, past, present—Christianity is the religion of incarnation. If you haven’t been hanging around churches lately, let me state that a little more forcefully. Christianity is definitely a religion about the body. Our central teachings and our practices center on embodiment. That is what that passage in Luke, so familiar to four hundred years of English speaking people, is about: a human body which was born to live, hunger, thirst, suffer, love, work, laugh, sleep, and die like any one of us. In a few minutes we shall gather around a table and share a meal in which we proclaim what he proclaimed—that a little chunk of bread is body, and a cup of wine is blood. And we go so far as to say that we who are gathered here doing all this are in fact a body. No not just “a” body, but the body of Christ.

It is good to remember that because it is the most readily forgotten thing in the Church. We got our start in the ancient world where a fair number of people distrusted the body. It was not all that uncommon to find around the time that Jesus was born a good number of people who believed sincerely that matter was evil or at least bad enough to be the enemy of spirit. If God was spirit, the last thing God would do would be to get mixed up with bodies. Some went so far as to suppose that the Most High God could not even have been the creator of the world, so they talked about a demi-urge, a being with responsibility for making the material world including human bodies. Some took the stories in the Hebrew Bible and interpreted the creation of man and woman—indeed the physical world as we know it—to be a result of a primal disobedience—sin, if you will—resulting in the awful fate that we have to live in a material world in material bodies.

But tonight we gather to celebrate the truth that all that is a gigantic lie. Matter is not bad because nothing that the Creator makes is bad. All of it is good. Bodies are not evil. Bodies are good, natural, even spectacular, however short-lived most of them are. And how do we know it? By the telling of a story that once upon a time a human body was born, fashioned in the depths of its mother to be the person who would completely reveal God to the rest of his fellow-creatures. We celebrate, we dance, we sing, we laugh because that body became the three-dimensional representation of a wedding of humanity and divinity, one person in which the fullness of God and the completeness of a human being dwelt in total harmony. We celebrate this feast decked out in green and red: the green reminding us that it is not just the human body but the great body of nature, the body of the whole universe that the Creator cherishes so; the red reminding us that the baby Mary bore came like all of us out of the birth canal all bloody, and would leave life in this world with the same body again all bloodied. We celebrate this feast because it is not just about that body, his body, but your body.

Four years ago this night, a body lay in a bed three states away from here, dying. It was a body I knew well, though strangely not as well as you might think. It belonged to my father. I came to church that Christmas Eve at 5:00. Some of you know that Linda Kaufman, one of our priests who has presided at that liturgy for years, tosses out a sheet in the middle of this space, proclaims it a stable. Children, some prepared with costumes and some unsuspecting, quickly volunteer to assume parts in the birth stories from Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels. Sometimes there can be up to three Marys. Frequently there are cows and sheep and a donkey. I sat in the pew that night, devoutly wishing not to be a part of anything. But no one volunteered to be Joseph. I felt it coming. Linda asked me, “Frank, would you be Joseph?” I wasn’t about to say no to her, not on Christmas Eve, though I really would have preferred to be a cow, if I had to be anything. So I got up in my collar and leather jacket and proceeded to act the part of Joseph. For a little while it took my mind off that bed in South Carolina and the trip I would be making the next day to see him one last time. I like Christmas pageants well enough, but I have never thought that they did a particularly good job in helping us get past romanticizing Christmas, if not trivializing it. I’ve seen one too many shepherds do shameless things to one another by hook or by crook, wondered too many times if the angels carrying candles would set themselves or the church on fire, wanted to brain some pubescent boys for chewing gum in the middle of the thing, seen one too many wise men trip over his oriental drag, heard my fill of snide comments about who is going to be the blue angel or the pink angel and how she only came to Sunday School beginning in late November so she could be in the pageant. So this time, thanks to Linda, I entered the story, there in my collar and leather jacket, espoused to one or two Marys, whom I could accompany for a few minutes. I was remarkably nervous about the whole thing, as I recall.

I think I got through all that fairly well, ultimately grateful that I could shelve for a few minutes my preoccupation with Daddy. Not until we were singing “Silent Night” did I feel something happen in my body. It started somewhere in my chest, a sensation that became a knot which lodged in my throat. I was singing the tenor line at about “holy infant so tender and mild” when tears sprang. My voice quavered and I fell silent on “sleep in heavenly peace.” That is what bodies do, you know. They register this stuff in ways that I can hardly imagine disembodied spirits being able to. They tense up, they choke, they cry, they get goosebumps. And they remember. I heard him singing, the way he used to sing when I was 8 or 10, his voice effortlessly sounding bell-clear. They say you can only think one thought at a time. But suddenly there was with my tears a multitude of memories. I saw my little girl of 10 years padding by me in her sock feet, an angel stately carrying her candle in the Christmas pageant for the first time. I was in the back seat of the1949 Chevrolet, looking at the giant electric Christmas card in lights on the International Paper Mill in Georgetown, with Daddy singing and whistling, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas,” and Mama beside him purring approval. Christmases on the farm, staying up late wrapping presents for the children, walking into the rectory on Christmas Eve in Newtown inhaling the scent of cinnamon, seeing the mantle decked in fruit and evergreens, going with Aunt Myra to church and hearing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” for the first time: oh, the bodily life is exquisite!

Every memory that flashed through my mind was only possible because of this collection of bones and muscles and sinews and senses that I am. I can get myself into a good deal of trouble, sickness, and pain both with the body and with the mind that lives within it. But all these fleshly things like songs and scents and signs are part of the world that (Christmas says) God chose to inhabit. No doubt there are better worlds, where Peace is more than a slogan on a greeting card and where folks actually hush their noise and cease their strife to hear angels sing. But this is the world that we know. For better or worse, it’s home. And to live in it necessitates having a body, God knows. And it was such a body that the Holy Spirit chose in which to tabernacle, in which a baby was conceived and carried. And it was such a body, pierced at the first with straw and at the last with nails, in which was assumed the whole of human nature just so that what he is we might become.

Tonight we hear, of course, only a chapter in the story of God’s body. We shall hear others in due time. In just a little while on Ash Wednesday, we’ll remember that we bodies are but dust and to dust shall we return. We shall see shortly thereafter the Corpus Christi, the body of Christ, on the tree, suffering and dying reminding us that it was a very bodily death through which we find the door to life. We shall gaze on the body of the Risen Lord on Easter, marveling at the scars that betoken his pain and our healing. We shall look for the body we can no longer see on Ascension; and while we wonder where in heaven’s name he has gone, we’ll see as if in a mirror that that ascended and glorified body is right here on earth, with eyes and skin and breath and blood, in the form of a community that loves and serves and heals just the way Jesus did.

And she brought forth her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. A tiny body. A holy body. Just like yours.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2009.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's About Time

A sermon preached at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, DC, on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2009.

Text: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18

Somebody asked a couple of weeks ago where to buy an Advent calendar. I pondered a minute on the fact that I don’t think I have ever actually bought an Advent calendar. When my kids were growing up, we used a red and green chain made of construction paper. Inside each link was something to do to get ready for Christmas. Each of the four of us, and even the dog, had a special day during Advent. Then there were some feasts like St. Nicholas Day which we always celebrated in lieu of a big Santa Claus to-do at Christmas time.

It’s fun keeping track of time when you think you’re waiting for something special—as special as Christmas is to a kid. I don’t know that it is so much fun counting the days until you go in the hospital for surgery, or the weeks left before your case comes to trial. But we are creatures who are peculiarly attuned to time. We are conscious of past and future, although we only know of them in the present.

If you are waiting for Christmas, you can quite literally count the days, the hours, the minutes before it arrives. You can know precisely when it will be here, how many more shopping days left between now and then, and when it will be over with. That is because Advent calendars and date books and Blackberries and Palm Pilots all measure clock time. Χρονος it is called in the New Testament. But there is another kind of time, just as real, maybe even more real, than the time measured by clocks and watches. It is what the New Testament calls καιρος, and it has more the sense of “season” or “the right time” or “the favorable time.” It can also mean a fixed point in time, and can mean a period of time, such as the span of time when Pontius Pilate was procurator or when Augustus was Caesar. One of the things that καιρος means is the time of crisis or the last times. There is a good deal of interest in the last times, or the Messianic times, in the New Testament. People in general start thinking about the last times when they become increasingly convinced that things are bad and getting worse (and that is a good deal of the people a good deal of the time). When John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea preaching repentance, he appealed to people who were already on the tiptoe of expectancy, ready to welcome the arrival of the last things. Of course, the “last things” did not necessarily mean the end of the world so much as it meant a thorough housecleaning by the Coming Messiah. Wheat and chaff would be separated, good and evil sorted out, and a great big bonfire set to take care of worthlessness. If you are waiting for that kind of event you are definitely waiting for a καιρος, not a χρονος, moment.

It is frequently said that when Jesus came people were particularly ready for him because they were expecting such a καιρος moment. That is partly true. We rarely experience καιρος time unless we are open to it, awaiting it, anticipating something different. That is one of the funny things about these καιρος events: they are frequently missed, dismissed, undervalued, and misunderstood if we are not attuned to them. But it is partly not true because there was a very old idea that God was going to show up in human history, and was going to look quite different from what Jesus turned out to look like. Our prophet in today’s first lesson, Zephaniah, was one of the clearer voices proclaiming the Day of the Lord. He did this six hundred years or so before Jesus actually appeared. (That is to say that Zephaniah was about as temporally close to Jesus as, say, Henry VIII of England is to us.) Most people don’t remember what was in the news three or four years ago, and couldn’t care less about what was happening a generation or two ago, let alone what somebody was announcing six hundred years ago. But this is exactly where our community of faith has a different sense of time and of reality from the sense that prevails in the world of ordinary human affairs. We think not so much in terms of χρονος as in terms of καιρος. What’s a year? What’s a century? What’s a millennium? These things don’t matter nearly as much as the coming to birth of a Truth, a Presence, a Reality that folks are open to, ready to embrace, eager to greet.

The Day of the Lord, Zephaniah said, was not pretty. It would be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry. He doesn’t sound too different from many a voice in the present period who are telling us about climate change and terrorism and global economic meltdown and endless war. And, generally speaking, Zephaniah was saying all these things with the hope of making a point: that Jerusalem—Judah—had to change, had to renew its Covenant with the Creator, had to change its ways. Think of Zephaniah as proposing a massive intervention in Jerusalem, much as we might confront an alcoholic or substance abuser. The point is not just to predict doom; it is to get a change in behavior. You can see the parallel between him and John the Baptist. John’s idea, like Zephaniah’s, was not to announce the great and terrible dies irae of God’s judgment; it was to confront and exhort people to repent. It was, after all, as Luke says, “good news.”

A piece of relatively good news is that this is not the only Advent season that we are likely to see. There will be others and others and still more, well past the lifetimes, I suspect, of everybody here. Of course, there are always predictions of Doomsday, and a great many people buy into them. The Mayan calendar runs out in 2012, and many see that chronological time as a kind of καιρος moment signaling the end of the world. Conservatives and reactionaries swear that as the old order crumbles, the world will simply go to hell. Some of them seem plenty pleased with that. But liberals, too, predict dire consequences of economic disasters and climate apocalypse. Nobody seems to be selling much hope.

Unless it is the faithful proclaimers of the gospel, like, I hope, you. With our eyes open and with clear heads, we are once more articulating an Advent message. “My spirit rejoices,” we say, “in God my Savior.” Sing aloud, O daughter Zion! The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst. Look at him: a victor dancing in the midst of you like a young, strong, vibrant warrior, far more intent on singing than on fighting, far more taken with his own dancing than with his enemies, for more enchanted with you his beloved than preoccupied with his enemies.

We keep talking this way because we believe it is the Truth. It may take six or seven hundred more years, or maybe not, for it all to come around. But we know. We have seen it before. When we thought there was absolutely nothing to be done and no hope for the morrow, a young woman conceived and brought forth a son. He showed us how life could be lived out of love and not fear. He came among us and washed our feet when we could only compete, forgave our sins when we thought we’d be stuck in therapy forever, taught us that in giving we would become rich, and that in learning to die we would strangely learn to live. In him, the old Day of the Lord stopped being something to dread and became something to celebrate. And we even believe that when we gather around a table today, hearing and seeing a new priest speak words he spoke, he is powerfully and surprising present, making out of many individuals one body capable of actually adding joy to the world.

© Frank G. Dunn, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Exiles Come Home

One of the themes of Advent is woven into that great hymn from the fifteenth century, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

…And ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lonely exile…

Why would we sing something like that? Or for that matter, why would anyone sing it in the fifteenth century? It certainly is not a historically literal idea. Israel was not in exile waiting for the Son of God to appear—not if you define exile as living away from one’s homeland. When John Mason Neale penned those English words in the 19th century, he was picking up on something greater than a piece of history. He was giving voice to a human condition that people know about the world over.

Exile has never gone out of fashion nor lost its power. Numbers and estimates vary, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees figures that about 16 million people were exiles from their countries last year. Add to that another 24 million who are exiled from their homes but who remain within their native countries. And that, of course, does not account for the people who are living in self-imposed exile, or who are driven from their homes for personal or family reasons.

But exile is not just a physical condition. And though we tend to think about it as a political situation, the roots of the idea of exile we can view most clearly in a religious or mythical context. Think of Moses. Think of Oedpius.[1] Such heroes as these experience exile and suffer the sense of alienation that exile brings. Running through the consciousness of humanity is the sense that we are in a real sense cut off from our spiritual home. That is the primary meaning of one of our primary stories, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It is not about history. It is about our condition. In a letter J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “...but certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of exile.” This sense of alienation, of exile, is exactly what St. Augustine touched when he prayed his famous prayer, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” It is not just a Christian or Jewish preoccupation. Some native African religions have a story that once upon a time the gods dwelt at just about the level of the tree-tops. But something happened and they withdrew. People ever since have been in search of the vanished gods to reconnect with them.

I doubt very much that I have to sell you on the idea of exile, because I suspect you know as much as anyone does about it. We don’t go around every day thinking about Paradise Lost, to be sure. But you don’t have to live very long before you begin to sense that you are, in the words of spiritual writer Philip Zaleski, “living in the rift.” Whether you have moved to a new location, or changed jobs, or buried a parent, or lost a friend, or are battling illness, something has been lost. One of the purposes of Advent is to awaken this feeling, to bring it to consciousness, to invite us to embrace it and not run from it. That is the point of reading from the Book of Baruch today.

If you have ever heard of or paid attention to the Book of Baruch, you are a rare bird. It is not even in the Hebrew Bible. We have it in fact because someone translated a Hebrew text into Greek. It got combined it with other texts in that great ancient work called the Septuagint. Baruch dates most probably from the third or second century before Christ, at a time when Israel was experiencing not an altogether geographical but certainly a psychological and spiritual exile. Books like Baruch frequently look back to an earlier time for parallels, clues, and hope. So the author of Baruch takes the name of a prominent scribe in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, and retrojects some of his content into the period several centuries earlier when Israel was literally, geographically, and politically exiled. Jews—or Judahites—had been scattered all around the Mediterranean world and the cream of the nation had been deported to Babylon. Baruch in effect says to his hearers, “I know what you are feeling. You are feeling exiled. We have been there before.”

Now the problem with Baruch, if you read the whole book—short as it is—is that its theology is a kind of patchwork of the major religious thinking of its day. It is a kind of mild, none-too-original soup designed to work for as many people as possible across the entire spectrum of religious practice, liberals and conservatives alike. And maybe that itself is a sobering feature of this book about exiles. It seems to say that whether we are Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians, whether we are Anglicans or Baptists or Quakers or Unitarians, we are all exiles. None of us is exempt from the condition, and we are better off if we admit and embrace our fundamental unity. It is with a blaze of poetry that Baruch signs off, consoling the Jerusalem of Baruch’s day:

Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,

And put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.

Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;

Put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;

For God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven…

Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them.

Is it possible? Can we come home? Is there anyone who will lead us? Or must we remain exiled forever? There is a sense in which the sense of exile is not going to disappear. On a purely practical level, if it is not one thing it is another. Aging, for instance, brings with it increasing challenges and losses, each one of which can exacerbate the condition of feeling exiled, as when quite literally we are marooned amidst crowds when we lose our hearing or when we are alone in our apartments no longer able to walk freely or drive. Nor can we get away from the fact that some of the sense of the loss of paradise is the inescapable loss of innocence that comes with experience.

But there is another sense in which the words of Baruch are just as pertinent, just as alive for you and me as they could possibly have been for Jews in the time of the Second Temple. “For God will lead Israel with joy in the light of glory” is a promise made to you this day. How can you have it, feel it, taste it, see it? How can it be more than a pious idea? The brilliant historian of religion Mircea Eliade described what happens when exiles have a sudden alertness to an inner call. Eliade called it “nostalgia for Paradise,” “the desire to recover the state of freedom and beatitude” before the exile.[2] When we begin longing to make contact with this God who seems so remote—when we begin entertaining the possibility that maybe there is something that can heal and restore us, something that we thirst for—long for—crave with all our being, then we can begin singing the song of Baruch even as own our exile and search for the way out of it. “God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.”

There is the possibility that we can get stuck blaming our exile on various captors: the culture, politicians, the media, the collapse of religious consensus. There is the possibility that we can try to get out of exile by means of a new narrative furnished by science or art or some other religious tradition. We can always go down the exile aisle with sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, or some variation of them. But there is also the possibility that none but Emmanuel himself will come and ransom the captives that mourn in lonely exile. Take one step and God will take a thousand.[3] Once we realize that Emmanuel—Jesus--is right here, right now, the exile is not nearly so painful or so lonely. God is with us after all. Lost Paradise is regained. Exile ends. Rejoice!

[1] Vine Deloria, Jr., “Out of Chaos,” in Parabola, x:2 (May 1985), 14.

[2] Philip Zaleski, “Living in the Rift,” Parabola, vol. x, number 2 (May 1985), 6.

[3] Ibid., p. 13.