Sunday, April 29, 2018

2018.04.29 Memorial Homily: a Letter, February, 2018

May I speak to you in the name of the God who inspired St. Ignatius of Loyola to say: “We are created to live in God’s love and life for all eternity.”

Dear Pierre,

I am honored to be here today speaking your praises. I can hear your voice now in my ear: “Pffft non, non, non. It is the Lord, not me.” For all your adorable arrogance, Pierre, you were truly humble.

Still, I will speak.

I knew you'd choose scriptures that affirmed Ignatius’s wisdom:
    -From Isaiah, a message deeply personal and universal:  Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you.
    -Psalm 23, of course. I picture you now beside tranquil waters in lush meadows—these could be French meadows, possibly resembling Marseilles, or Wallingford, Connecticut, where you lived with your beloved Mary. 
    -From  I John: Beloved let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us . . .” (I John 4: 4-10a)
    - Gospel of Matthew: Jesus recited Beatitudes, blessing the beauty and messiness of life all together—in terse inclusive phrases, a little blunt, like you, Monsieur.  Your beatitude? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Thank you for your courage, Pierre. You took risks where others feared to tread.

For you it was always about Love and Jesus the Christ, the one you called “that guy.”  If on a directed retreat I didn’t see Jesus on the horizon as I prayed on the beach at Mercy Center, something was missing. You would question, not scold, but with intensity ask: “Leen, do you see the Lord, the guy? I squinted as I looked out to sea from the beach. No Jesus-guy.
In time I learned to see the Lord through my beeg eemaginashun, as you would say. I sat on this bench.
And too, Pierre, you would say when I came to visit in your latter days: “Hey, where is the guy?” You meant my guy, Dick Simeone, my beloved priest spouse. He is right here today, offering your praises and remembering with me.
Through your ministry, Pierre, especially the Spiritual Exercises of your genius-saint-guy, Ignatius, I discovered that you would never not be a Jesuit. You can take the guy out of the Order but you can’t take the Order out of the guy. Getting to know this Jesus-guy in my own flesh was the best spiritual gift I ever received. Merci Monsieur, merci beaucoup.

I remember when we first met met in the early 1980s. I’d heard a Roman Catholic chaplain colleague rave and rave about knowing Jesus so well. I thought she was pretty nuts. I also felt insulted, as if I didn’t know Jesus very well, which I didn’t. But I was also entranced and intrigued. I asked her how she knew Jesus so well.
    “You have to have a Jesuit for that!” she announced.
    “Where do I get a Jesuit?” I asked.
She intimated, but stopped short of telling me, that I should become Roman Catholic. I did, however, have to sign up for a silent directed retreat at Mercy Center with Pierre Wolff, her Jesuit of choice.

I sat in a retreat room among several other quivering eager newbies, half expecting to see Jesus sweep in. But it was you, Pierre, announcing that we all would introduce ourselves—briefly. Very short, you said, and gave your own introduction: “Pierre Wolff. France.” Spit spat. I would soon learn that you had a big heart— and a snappy mouth.
There followed a bunch of paragraphs-long, mini-bios, none of them necessary, except to quell our nerves. Then came the seestairs, your three female minions who would assist you in directing us on this retreat: Judy Fortune, Mary Daly, Elaine Deasy, Sisters of Mercy. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.

Oh God, I thought, nuns! Maybe this is too Catholic for me. But I had harbored secret longings since junior high school, mostly because they had a woman up front in their churches. A woman, no less—a stone statue, but still . . .   I prayed I’d get one of these Mercies for my director. This Pierre-guy would not be warm and fuzzy! 

But I got my Jesuit. So began our fifteen-year relationship of spiritual director and directee. It was never a flirtation, although I had become quite expert in this strategy in my midlife. Pierre, you accompanied me, respected me, let me argue with you, even reprimand you, nursed me through the heartache of being rejected initially in the Episcopal ordination process, the grief of divorce, and the joy of remarriage, convincing me—over and over— that I was a good enough mother, and that God saw me as precious and honored and beloved, no matter what. When I’d get overwhelmed and freak out you’d say: doucement cherie, doucement. Take it easy.

You’d say: “Leen, you are my priest.” But no, Pierre, you were my priest. You taught me how not to fear. You taught me to be free—free! It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1) The charism of the Jesuits is one of open-heartedness and open-mindedness—like you.

And you taught me how to hate. When I read and re-read your amazing small book, May I Hate God, I knew it wasn’t God I hated, but the Church—at least for a time. You weren’t so happy with your own Church, Pierre, all because of the dismissive ways women were treated.

You celebrated Eucharist  among us informally—people of all  traditions welcome. You knelt at a low table on which the bread and wine rested, awaiting words of consecration, yet already consecrated by our presence in God. This is still my favorite way to celebrate the sacrament. Free.

Still, imagine my shock when one day at work I received a call from you in your frenchified English talking about Mary and marry and getting married, and Mary again. Somehow I knew this was not the stone statue of Mary, but a woman of flesh and blood that you loved deeply. You wanted ME to officiate at your marriage to this Mary. I said yes with more aplomb than I felt, and before I knew what I was doing. I was hardly wet behind the ears, and this would be my first ever marriage liturgy: September 10, 1988, just six months after my ordination as a priest.

The requisite pre-marital counseling felt quite hilarious. Me, a baby priest, counseling you, Pierre, a larger-than-life authority figure to me. It was comical.

But you and your Mary were gracious and dear. I listened to you two talk about your relationship, your love, your desire to marry in the sight of your Lord. I said something lame. But then I just looked and listened to you both, and I knew: here was love that participated in Love Eternal; here was Easter Love that would nourish you two and everyone your lives touched; here was love that could sustain great grief as you, Pierre, left your country, your order, your faith of origin, your Roman Catholic priesthood in a short span of time. Blessed are you who mourn for you will be comforted.

All this for the love of a woman named Mary. That has a scriptural ring, no? And Mary: Blessed are you who mourn for you will be comforted.

I couldn’t be a Catholic priest because of my gender; I couldn’t be a Jesuit, wrong gender again, so I became an Anglo-Catholic priest and an Associate of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. And you, Pierre, became an Episcopal priest.

Merci, my French, Jesuit, priest, Jesus-freak, Episcopalian. Blessed are you, for you have lived and loved in God who is Love and who loved you first.

Merci, merci le bon dieu, adieu. Good bye. Amen.


Oh, and Pierre…….. doucement cheri, doucement.

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, Connecticut. Later he became an Episcopal priest, continuing his ministry, and authoring numerous books. His first book May I Hate God? is a favorite of mine.   
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.

I think Iggy looks like Pierre. Well maybe not quite, but allow my projection. That's a necessary psychological strategy for all 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


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:



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


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.


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.