Sunday, April 22, 2018

2018.04.22 Iggy, Pierre, and Me—Intertwining Stories

On February 4, 2018, I delivered a homily at the memorial Eucharist for the Rev. Pierre Wolff, Episcopal priest, Jesuit-trained, and my spiritual director for fifteen years. I began my homily, which was a letter to Pierre, with a quote from the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), a soldier, born in Basque Country, now Spain. Ignatius, while recuperating from his wounds, experienced visions of Christ. The soldier in him helped the mystic in him design the ingenious Spiritual Exercises. 

        “We are created to live in God’s love and life for all eternity.”


I am not a soldier, a mystic nor a genius, yet my spirituality was deeply formed by two geniuses—one I knew well and one I knew by proxy. Their stories and mine intertwine.

Pierre Maurice Wolff was born in Marseilles France on November 2, 1929. He lived through the second world war, served as a French Jesuit priest, giving the Spiritual Exercises and retreats to the Sisters of St. Joseph and lay people. In the early 70's, Pierre came to the States to do the same type of ministry with many communities. In 1988 Pierre married Mary; they made their home in Wallingford; and later he became an Episcopal priest, continuing his ministry and authoring numerous books, his first and my favorite is May I Hate God?    
Here is  Pierre "hating" God.

I began my memorial homily with Ignatius’s words, because Pierre had drummed them into me. They were the Principles and Foundations of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises. “We come from God/Love; we return to God/Love; we live in God/Love supported and sustained every moment of every day,” Pierre said. The spiritual life was not a journey with a goal, but rather an everyday process of living, breathing, being IN that Love. I agreed—intellectually.

It was 1989. I had just been ordained an Episcopal priest. I had done retreat work with Pierre since 1983, and had just officiated at his marriage to a former Sister of Mercy, Mary Morgan—another whopping story for next week’s blog. I had fought with the Church Jesus did not found. A chaplain colleague had told me that if I wanted to get to know Jesus I had to get a Jesuit. Then she had one for me, one fresh from France no less. Fantastique et merveilleux.

Now I was ready to meet Jesus on the ground—beyond my sentimentalized Sunday School Jesus, simperingly sweet, and born Christian. As a chaplain in an alcohol/drug rehabilitation treatment center, I had to get the God-thing across without mentioning God or anything religious. Thus  . . .

I was to pray daily for an hour. An hour? Who prays for an hour all alone and in silence? Pierre gave me some scriptures to use and told me to jot down my feelings in my prayer journelle. First feeling, anxiety; on its heels, anger. I groused to myself: I’m a working woman. I have a job! I have to be there by 8:30, latest. I say my prayers in the morning and evening, but a whole hour? I go to church every Sunday. Come on! 

God was silent.

My resistance persisted. Prayer was an almighty inconvenience. Every single day and for a whole year? I felt sure God would not want me to interfere with healthy sleep, let alone my job, ministry of course. I shelved this prayer assignment, feeling quite righteous and right. Never once did I consider actually praying to God about my angst and pique. I would ask Pierre to alter the schedule. A reluctant pray-er is worse than a reluctant suitor. And so, amen.

Then one evening I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. an hour before my usual wake-up blast. I don’t know why I did this, hardly remembered that I did until the next morning when the alarm went beep-beep-beep—staccato summons. I jumped up, padded into the bathroom, splashed water in my face, moved quietly and quickly, so as not to awaken my husband, into the bedroom we weren’t using as a bedroom.  I sat down in the comfortable chair and stayed there for an hour—quiet and alone. This was my first personal experience of a miracle—sheer grace. Nothing within my conscious reach could have made this happen. Not me.

Pierre, whom I now saw weekly, wondered tactfully if God made this happen. Where was my stubborn independent, first-born sassy self?  Had I made a mistake and turned obedient?  Nonplussed, Pierre gave me instructions: scripture readings to pray with, which meant not just skim. “You will keep a chart of your consolations (uplifting feelings) and desolations (the downers) and also make two columns, one labeled "daily life" and one labeled "prayer life." What is happening in each? The parallels were uncanny.

I used graph paper and drew soaring ups and downs. One of the first scripture passages to pray with was Jeremiah 13, something about girding the loins, with a loincloth no less—or more. You can imagine where that took me! I was deeply uncertain about my vocational direction, was newly married for the second time, still sought the perfect orgasm, and prayed like mad that all my kids would still love me.

Still, it took time for the whole truth of this God/Love to, well, sink in. I no longer, ever ever again, would imagine my faith life as a straight-lined journey with God at each end: Creation (coming from God) to Resurrection (going to God) and not so much in the middle, the daily trek and grind. Or, if God was in the middle it was by some kind of intervention that felt miraculous. Jesus the Christ would, it turned out, have much to do with the murky middle. I hung in with him, walked with him, stayed IN step with him.

You know what assured me? One little word in Ignatius’s sentence: IN. I knew God was IN me but I’d never thought of myself being IN God—and not only IN God’s love but IN God’s life as well. This was Ignatius's genius. The mere mention of his name awakened Pierre, even in his old age and fading mental capacity. He would enthusiastically exclaim: “Ah this man, this Ignatius, is a true genius, Genius!” I have no doubt myself.

Try as I did I could never figure out exactly how Ignatius’s prayer exercises worked, how the seemingly rigid, almost military, structure of simple biblical texts, coupled with an hour of prayer each day, worked to shape and transform my soul.

Genius means this: a qualitative blend of love and intellect that passes from one to the next and never dies. Such genius is never the property of a single person. It is mobile, its wisdom eternal. 

Here is Ignatius, whom I affectionately call Iggy.
This portrait hangs in the Campion Retreat Center in Weston Massachusetts. I think Iggy looks like Pierre. Campion is a huge place, formerly a seminary to train young men to the Roman Catholic priesthood, now a retreat/conference facility for hopeful spiritual aspirants like I was— and still am.

      “We are created to live IN God’s love and life for all eternity.”




Sunday, April 15, 2018

2018.04.15 Images of Mystery

IMAGES IN WORDS AND PICTURES ARE WHAT WE HAVE OF MYSTERY

Through each of these images I see the Wholeness of all living things.

ORCHIDS—with—sunlight from windows, a mural of the Holy City Jerusalem, a broken-winged angel on the left, a half-burned oil candle on the right, a dancing flame lamp unlit center front. 


RULE OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS, Episcopal male monastics:

LOVE MUST ACT
   AS LIGHT MUST SHINE
       AND FIRE MUST BURN



THE FORGOTTEN TREE

In the famous biblical myth of the Garden of Eden with all its wisdom about the human condition, we most often focus on the one tree whose fruit God, in all wisdom, advises against eating. It is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good AND Evil. Its fruit, not an apple btw, is forbidden because it will bring shame and a strong temptation to doubt the goodness of in God, self and neighbors as we are. This fruit will bring shame and fear. It's the lush fruit that tastes delicious and can bear bad spiritual fruit. That simple. And we always grab for it, no? It is normal so to do. I would. I have. I will again.

BUT, there is another tree in this famous Garden of Eden. It is the Tree of Life from the beginning so placed by the Creator. It is full and rich and ample, and plenty. Its presence is almost always forgotten. We choose the other tree. It seems quite human to do so. Thank goodness we have a God who does not punish but does keep on reminding us in myriad ways, that the other tree is still there with its own fruit for us to choose—anyhow.



MEDITATION in Eastertide by Sister Stan, Gardening the Soul. Soothing Seasonal Thoughts for Jaded Modern Souls

"As we move into the third millennium, we need a symbol of hope, an image that is capable of encompassing the great traditions of the past, the energy of the present and hopes for the future.
   Could a woman with child be the symbol for the third millennium? For contained within her womb is all the richness of ancestral heritage, the unique, creative moment of conception and the infinite potential of the future. "

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth.      Revelation 12:1-2


EMPTY TOMBS

I sought for an image of the sun-woman pregnant with life and writhing in pain. All I found were images of a virginal Mary, all white, or some Russian icons, stiff of face and form. 

Tiring of the hype of glory and knowing it to be only part of the promise, I thought of laboring women, pregnant with life, who then face the unfathomable sorrow when a child is born still, leaving an empty womb still vibrating with spasms of longing—and the woman alone, bedraggled, sunless, starless. 

Is that the truest image for women? The empty womb? For all of us who hope sightlessly? Is the truest image of Easter the empty tomb? A resurrection without a body? 

Aidan Owen, a brother at Holy Cross Monastery highlighted some words, taken in part from a poem by Christine Lore Webber, in his 2018 Easter Vigil sermon in the monastery church in the night.


"And some of us God hollows out with new life. Hollows us to be a tomb in which to lay the polar bear and the maple. Hollows us to be a bell tolling in witness to the lives of children killed while they study. Hollows us to be a throat calling out for justice, wailing in lamentation, and singing songs of hope and resistance, a throat proclaiming the great and unending alleluia of God, of life flowing from the heart of death, like the waters of Eden."


Are we not all called to be hollowed out like the tomb, even as we simultaneously long to be hallowed? 








Sunday, April 8, 2018

2018.04.08 The Depressed King and the Deformed Musician

What do you do when you feel insane, trapped in the endless circle of your own mind? Sing, of course.

Here’s a story for you. It was part of a sermon delivered by the Rt. Rev. Alan Gates on Holy Tuesday, 2018. The bishop was speaking to the clergy of his diocese, many of whom were feeling exhausted, preoccupied, and some defeated, by the weight of their vocation at this most important time of the Christian year.

King Felipe V of Spain ruled in the early 1700s. He suffered from mental illness that caused him to howl into the night, become incontinent, play obsessively with clocks, and often go mute for weeks. Against all reason he was not deposed.

Carlo Farinelli was an Italian-born singer who was castrated at the age of ten in order to preserve his beautiful voice. Men like Farinelli were called castrati. Although cruel measures were used, the sound of castrati singing had depth and power and a pure, genderless, ethereal sound.


By one of those coincidences I like to call God-incidences, Farinelli the castrato and King Felipe the insane found something unique together. Farinelli was persuaded by Queen Isabella to come to Spain to sing for the tormented king. The king received Farinelli because he sensed a certain bond in circumstance—that inner sense we often dismiss but that sometimes turns out to be a nudge from the Holy Spirit, the Great Connector.  (She does know how to do Her healing work!)

The two men conversed:
    King: “We were both made [who we are] against our will. It is no more natural for me to be a king than it is for you to be what you are.  Both of us have been ‘robbed of normality.’”  Both men, concludes the King, have unreasonable, impossible expectations heaped upon them – by their families, by the public, even by God. “You have a world of subjects – as I do.  Mine were given to me by God, though.  I wish I were a pagan.”
    Farinelli:  “Why?”
    King:  “Many gods are fun; one is a nightmare. … He keeps us on a tight rein.”


The relationship that began in mutual brokenness evolved as healing. When Farinelli sang, the music penetrated the king’s madness. It gradually drew him out of his isolation and dark despondency—re-centered, restored, reconciled him to the world around him, even to the impossibility of his vocation. The king called it “the music of the spheres.”  As for Farinelli, he sang the king to his senses, himself to pride of purpose.

There is a young girl in the neighborhood who stands alone waiting for the school bus to arrive. While she waits she sings—to herself, to the world, to no one, to God—rain or shine, she sings. It’s not the quality of her voice, tonality or atonality, that makes her song beautiful. It’s that her music, for its own sake, evokes truth, love, soul, and beauty. Such odd holiness, eh?

P.S.  It was the patriarchal politics and religion of the King’s day that kept him on a tight leash —not Godde.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

2018.04.01 HALLELUJAH!

HALLELUJAH!  Such an excitable word! I got to thinking about the power of the word itself—breathy, open, pumped.

                                                       
HALLELUJAH


The first time I bumped into Hallelujah in a visceral way, I was eight—vulnerable and easily smitten. Our music teacher, Miss Ball, was one of my many image-of-God figures—worthy of worship. She was tall, bunched her straw-colored hair in a net tucked tight to her neck, had a baton we all obeyed, sang to us like angels do, and made solemn promises we trusted.

Miss Ball promised that if our all-girls chorus practiced our soul-notes—the ones that came from the bottom of our bellies, not our throats —we could sing The Hallelujah Chorus at the Christmas concert. She sang us sample hallelujahs. She was an alto. So was I.

“This is the music of heaven by a prodigiously famous composer named Handel, girls,” she said.  I didn’t know what prodigiously meant but I fervently practiced my soul-notes at home. I didn’t know what heaven was either, but I was sure Miss Ball was a prime candidate.

Hallelujah, according to Miss Ball, was a Hebrew word, hallel— praise. “Close your eyes tight and imagine the brightest light you can.”  I squished my eyes tight and envisioned the huge square flashlight my father used when we had night air raid drills in New York City. He held the light while I raced around to pull down all the black shades so no bomb would fall on us.  “Now open your mouths and let that light shine in your voices, like this. Ah-lay-looo-ya, silent H.”  We girls were securely under Miss Ball’s spell. I didn’t know who wanted this Hallelujah more, me or Miss Ball.

We practiced like mad, singing wide-mouthed ahs and oohs and las and yahs. I could tell Miss Ball wasn’t at all sure how this whopping choral piece would come off. But it was printed on the program; parents and God would be in attendance, so we were ready.

Hallelujah night arrived. Breathless, we stood in our rows, spiffed in white blouses and navy blue skirts, waiting. What if Miss Ball was late? Then she swept in like Loretta Young on television.  My eyes popped wide open—wonderstruck. Miss Ball’s hair had escaped its net. Out it tumbled. It billowed magically in waves. She picked up her baton, tapped the music stand, shining upon us a grin of blinding radiance.

Halleluah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.Hallelujah. Ha-la’ay-loo-yah.
  We shone with praise.

Everyone stood for the chorus and then everyone clapped for us—maybe for God, or Handel. We took our bows. Although Miss Ball had carefully explained to us that the famous Hallelujah Chorus by the prodigious Handel was really intended for Easter not Christmas, she applauded wildly, and I never saw much difference between the two anyway—still don’t.
                                                             *  *  *  *
All this happened just before Christmas vacation. That year Hallelujah surpassed even Santa Claus. All through the Christmas vacation I walked around singing my alto part out loud.

After vacation I was eager to see Miss Ball—and get more praise. Instead, she grinned and  announced that we all should now call her Mrs. Davis.

HALLELUJAH


Sunday, March 25, 2018

2018.03.25 Why Wave Palms? Fake News?

We wave palms for the same reason we wave placards and posters and signs: to protest massive political and spiritual indifference to the needs of the smallest among us—our children.


In 1988, I was ordained priest, on March 25th. Thirty years ago my day as was the Feast of the Annunciation: Mary’s big day. She is remembered in biblical tradition and in the hearts of women of faith for her decision to listen to God’s request for help. Her assent destined her to a life of agonizing pain, heart-wrenching sorrow, and love.  She is often remembered with roses.  On my day roses adorned the sanctuary.
This year in 2018 her day and mine, March 25, is Jesus’s big day: Palm or Passion Sunday, often called The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. We wave palms—green, supple, fresh—and shout Hosannas. Like Mary’s day, this day was for Jesus his willingness to risk his life to confront  political and spiritual indifference to the needs of the least among us, especially children. His decision would mean spiritual betrayal, wrenching disappointment, and agonizing death.
On the surface, all three days were celebratory, triumphal. Great victories were cheered: Mary’s safe birthing and rearing of a Messiah; Jesus’s entering Jerusalem to confront the imperial powers with the need for justice and peace; my ordination after eleven years of rejections, in part because of my being a woman—in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each apparent victory was incomplete, shadowed by ambiguity at best—how monumentally paradoxical:  The less triumphal we act the more triumphant we are.  Or, the more triumphal we act the less triumphant we really are.

My ordination procession looked and sounded triumphal but . . .  I was scared witless and a bit numb—worried that the bishop, who strode behind me with his huge long crozier (ersatz shepherd’s crook), would reach out, crook my neck, and toss me out of the fold. My other worry was that the bishop might have to leave suddenly because he had a ghastly, sniffly cold. Would he sneeze in the middle of his crucial lines, without which I would not be a priest: “Therefore Father, through Jesus Christ, your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Lyn; fill her with grace and power, and make her a priest in your Church.”

I’d struggled through a long, hard, painful process to get to this day. The personal triumph was that I had not given up when I felt defeated. I had stayed the course against significant odds—my own flaws and the church’s prejudices.

I never blamed God. In fact I felt that God’s Spirit was present in the slow ongoing process of healing and reconciliation between my broken heart and the Church’s broken rules.

The less triumphal we act the more triumphant we are.

Did Jesus feel triumphal as he entered Jerusalem? He knew that his vision had stirred up crowds. He knew this was a life-threatening protest with a small number of believers. He knew this was a public political protest punishable by execution. Was it divinely ordained?  God does not desire the death of anyone. Jesus’s death was nothing to wax triumphal about. So where’s the triumph and when?

It would be an act of sheer Divinity that Mary’s motherhood would be remembered, lauded and written into holy scriptures as  a miracle to reverence. It would be an act of sheer Divinity, one that took many restless years to take root in the hearts of crestfallen followers, to turn Jesus’s actions into a triumph, a miracle of truth called Resurrection.

And my ordination? It made me a priest.
It also began a process of many restless years—discerning the fullness of my priesthood, with God’s help. The traditional track for priests, to be a parish rector, was not the way for me to be a priest. Rather, I was to be a non-stipendiary Sunday-only priest of Word and Sacrament in parishes. This sacramental ministry remained central.


But full triumph?  I continued to feel like a failed priest, as if my whole vocation was “fake news” until I saw that I was a priest at the altar and in my office. The three sacramental functions of a priest —bless, consecrate, absolve—transferred easily, sometimes formally, into people’s ordinary lives through my profession as a pastoral counselor, spiritual director, and writer. Occasionally, the traditional route for priests feels alluringly triumphal, but not the realized triumph.

May the triumphal massive March For Our Lives, led by teens all over the world, come to full triumph in unlocking the prideful partisan resistance of adults that we all may work together for life-saving change. Will this be an act of sheer humanity/divinity miracle?  I pray so.  Amen.







Sunday, March 18, 2018

2018.03.18 Pay Attention!

On International Women’s Day this year the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, delivered a keynote address, “Time Is Now for Change in the Catholic Church,” to a full house at the Jesuit Curia in Rome. The event, entitled “Why Women Matter” was sponsored by Voices of Faith, an international women’s organization. 

Now why would I, an Episcopal priest, care about the politics of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church?
    -Because Catholicism is the largest religious faith in the world and what happens there matters to us all. It’s naive to think otherwise.
    -Because Ireland’s former president is a brave woman whose blatantly honest words are still relevant and have even prompted a civil exchange between an Irish bishop and herself.
    -Because for years I’ve harbored a strong antipathy toward Ireland, or at least the Irish Catholic Church.

I write in part to heal my own irrational anti-Ireland hatred. I’ve felt this ever since I saw the movie, “The Magdalene Sisters” in 2003. Oh yes, I know how beautiful green Ireland is, and I know it has changed over the years, and I know this is about the Irish Catholic Church not about the whole country, but . . . 

“The Magdalene Sisters” is set in Ireland in 1964. It’s a true story of four teenage girls who were committed, by their own families no less, against their will, to Magdalene Asylums (also known as Magdalene Laundries) an institution run by Roman Catholic orders from the 18th to late 20th centuries. It was an institution of confinement for “fallen” women. After a mass grave was discovered and media investigations occurred, a formal state apology was issued in 2013 and a compensation package was set up for survivors.

The Roman Catholic Church has to date refused to contribute to the fund. Some religious orders have contributed to a compensation fund, including the Religious Sisters of Mercy of which I am an Associate—and proud.

The film was made to publicize atrocities and to make money for compensatory practices. I tell you it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen that gave me nightmares— and still could if I allowed it. Maggie Smith played the sadistic Mother Superior who presided over this torture. I love Maggie Smith, but in this film I had a hard time remembering that she was an actor playing her role. Her embodiment of the Christian Gospel she vowed to serve was violently opposed to Christ’s kingdom of heaven on earth.

The “fallen” girls whose stories the movie focuses on were considered in need of redemption. One was raped; one was beautiful and normally flirtatious; one an unmarried mother; and one an intellectually disabled unmarried mother. These girls, innocent save for their gender and its natural expressions, endured unspeakable cruelty while imprisoned like slaves in forced labor camps. Some had spent their entire lives in this toxic squalor.

Humiliations, such as satisfying Father XXX’s need for penile stimulation, being paraded for regular breast-size contests, complete isolation from family, including their children and babies they were forced to give up, and the outside world, and harsh labor, not to mention constant verbal and physical abuse, were wrenching to watch. The girls coped by befriending each other and snatching late night times to engage in conversation, otherwise forbidden. Once they got even by placing poison ivy into the washer with Father’s linens, then watching him jump around frantic with itching.

The only way a girl could get out was if a relative of age, that is 21, came to get her and attest to her sanity. One girl of twelve had to wait until her little brother who had been seven when she was dragged off in the night by her father, got old enough (do the math) to come for her release. Release meant what was left of a lifetime suffering from torturous post-traumatic paranoid stress and terror of the Church, probably even of God.  “Redemption” for these Magdalenes consisted of hell on earth.

I was shocked by the institutionalized cruelty, horrified that no one had bothered to notice that history has redeemed Mary of Magdala who was falsely branded as a prostitute, and even more shocked when at the end of the film I learned that these laundries did not get disbanded until 1996. I’d fantasized that all this must have happened in a former century!

These women had been trapped in a culture whose dominant religion was so fouled by misogyny that in 2018 former Irish president McAleese would still call it “an empire of misogyny.”

McAleese met Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law in 1988. They had a verbal battle after he commented that he was “sorry for Catholic Ireland to have you as President.” 

McAleese was elected president in 1997 and served till 2011. She succeeded Ireland’s first woman president Mary Robinson and was the world’s first woman to succeed another as President.  She was also the first President from either Northern Ireland or Ulster. She worked as a barrister and a journalist and championed issues of justice and and social equality and inclusion. Imagine! As I read about McAleese my anti-Irish feelings softened. McAleese is also a practicing Roman Catholic who boldly and bravely critiques her religion. She has redeemed my hostility.
 McAleese’s words ring prophetic: “Back in this hall in 1995 the Jesuit Congregation asked God for the grace of conversion from a patriarchal Church to a Church of equals; a Church where women truly matter not on terms designed by men for a patriarchal Church but on terms which make Christ matter. Only such a Church of equals is worthy of Christ. Only such a Church can credibly make Christ matter. The time for that Church is now, Pope Francis. The time for change is now.” McAleese said in a BBC interview. “A Church that is homophobic and anti-abortion is not the Church of the future.”

It was time then, 22 years ago, and it is more urgently time now!  Do we have such credibility in any religion? 

Godde, help us credibly make Christ matter. Credibly!  Amen.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018.03.11 What Is Heroic?

What is Heroic, Really?

This Lent I fret once again over the Cross of Christ. Was Jesus a hero because he died in crushing agony? The symbol of the cross carries enormous sacred power. And every year I wonder why.

Theological explanations abound—atonement theory, martyrdom, God weeps and suffers with us, Jesus suffers in our stead, suffering is inherently sacred, one death puts an end to the need for sacrificial appeasements to get back right with God, and worst of all, unjust death is satisfactory “ransom” paid to redeem those kidnapped by sin for God’s sake. What?

A line in a movie we just saw leapt out at me: “So I’m a hero because I got my legs blown off?”

Would Jesus cry: “So I’m a hero because I was strapped to a cross and hoisted up to suffocate?”

The movie “Stronger” is about Jeff Bauman who at twenty-seven lost both of his legs to a the bomb explosion at the 2013 Boston Marathon. He was a spectator rooting for his fiancée Erin.  The details of the horrific aftermath were graphic as was the background drama about Bauman’s family struggle with alcohol and his own, his failure to sustain love, his agonizing time in the hospital and rehab, his nightmarish memories of the bomb trauma replayed like torture, his fierce determination to walk again, and finally, his prosthetic legs—awkward but upright.
Bauman became an instant hero, pushed and prodded into public appearances before huge crowds at a Bruins game and throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a Red Sox game, not to mention television interviews and the like. The crowds cheered as did his proud family. The elegiac felt unreal to him— like adding further pain. Bauman resisted the pressure and in the end gave in. Did he believe the naive surety of fans who insisted that the Sox won the Series that year because Bauman threw the first pitch? I don’t know. All I know is that he summoned enough energy to throw that pitch, a gesture he’d practiced. He threw small and hunched from his wheelchair on that field.

He asked: “So I’m a hero because I got my legs blown off?”

To Bauman’s question my answer is NO. There is nothing at all heroic about survival itself. Nor is he a hero for his suffering—inevitable consequence of an unforeseeable unpreventable crime. 

What IS, or was, heroic?
    -Bauman chose life, day after painful day against almighty odds—physical, emotional, mental and relational.     
     -Bauman’s place of employment, Costco, consistently provided for his well-being with visits, good insurance, and held open his job at the deli counter until he returned to work.
    -Bauman, alert enough to spot the bomber, insisted on an interview with the FBI to help them pursue criminal justice. Then he put his energy into his recovery.
    -Bauman sought out and was befriended by Carlos Arredondo, the man with the cowboy hat, who had run straight into the fiery scene, beat out the fire in Bauman’s shirt, and stayed with him until help came.
    -Bauman and his fiancée Erin weathered the trauma together, including the birth of a daughter, even when their relationship was already irreparably broken and ended in divorce in 2014.
    -Bauman  disliked and resisted the force of public pressure but also complied with their need for hope.
    -Bauman told his story and chose the title for his memoir and for the film. Stronger doesn’t mean being strong; it means growing into strength—becoming stronger and holding onto hope. That’s heroic.

Hope without measure is heroic wherever it is found.

And Jesus? His death was humiliating, cruel, torturous, unjust, the politics of fear and crowd control, and ignominious in body, mind and soul. I can find nothing heroic or noble in it—nothing. When I reverence the empty wooden cross on Good Friday, I reverence the courage of Jesus’s lifelong convictions and the come-lately efforts of his followers, back then and now, to keep his vision alive.

What  IS, or was, heroic?
   
    -Jesus chose life, day after grueling day, just to heal and sometimes to confront fear.
    -Jesus  ennobled the poor with hope, telling them that God’s  kingdom was alive and potent within them already.
    -Jesus rebuked the political and religious authorities of his day who abused their power and privilege for their own gain.
    -Jesus never called himself divine, or the Christ, or the Son of God—or a hero.
    -Jesus prayed, seeking to deepen his trust of a power greater than himself alone—and to beg for enough courage and strength to stay the deadly course he chose.
    -Jesus rebuked grandiose fantasies in his followers—all of whom, like us, made him a hero for the wrong reasons.
    -Jesus pointed to hope in God—over his dead body. Like sports heroes, Jesus wasn’t a hero or a winner because he got wounded, but because he ran the race.That’s enough.
    -Jesus never said a word from the Cross, regardless of later Gospel embellishments, except maybe a loud raging wail, and Mama.
    -Jesus spawned infinite hope.  So does Bauman.

Hope without measure is heroic wherever it is found.