It is blueberry pancake Sunday. In the kitchen, the young mother works under a deadline and a promise; today before church, blueberry pancakes for her two sons, their favorite breakfast in the whole wide world.
The two boys, aged 5 and 7, are fighting. Rolling on the floor, taking swings at one another over who would get the first pancake.
The mother is stressed and at the end of her rope. So, the fighting proves the final straw. She sees an opportunity for a moral lesson. “Boys,” she shouts. “Sit down! Now, if Jesus were here, he would give the first pancake to his brother.”
Well. That shuts them up.
Then the older brother says to the younger, “I have a great idea. Today, you be Jesus.”
I’m still smiling big.
And I wonder. What if today is the day to make a difference in our world?
“I believe in person to person,” Mother Teresa said. “Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.”
A still-plucky Sister Mary Antona Ebo of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary — the first black nun to march — didn’t think she was martyr material, but felt it was time to “put up or shut up.”
On March 7, 1965, Alabama state troopers and local police — some on horseback — used billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas to bludgeon and bloody about 600 civil rights activists who had started a march of 50 miles from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery.
News of that “Bloody Sunday” attack at the Edmund Pettus Bridge was broadcast into homes across the country and would be a turning point in the civil rights struggle. After the attack, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued a call for church leaders around the country to come to Selma. Sister Antona Ebo was working at St. Mary’s Infirmary, then a hospital for African-Americans in St. Louis, when news of the brutality in Selma reached her.
“If I didn’t have this habit on, if I wasn’t working,” she told her co-workers at the infirmary, “I’d be in Selma.”
“God called my bluff,” Ebo would later tell a reporter.
Ebo’s supervisor, Sister Eugene Smith, asked her whether, as an African-American nun, she would be part of a 50-member delegation — made up of laymen, Protestant ministers, rabbis, priests and five white nuns.
On the morning of Wednesday, March 10, the group flew to Selma. They were promptly taken to Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church — a civil rights landmark.
Ebo later realized that inside the chapel, politician and civil rights leader the Rev. Andrew Young had referred to her when he asked “the people to stand and acknowledge that one of the great moral forces of the world was now entering the church.”
“I didn’t even know that that was me,” Ebo says now with a chuckle.
Sister Mary Antona Ebo died last November, at the age of 93.
In 2013, I was honored to walk the Edmund Pettis Bridge and to stand with heroes, including Sr. Mary and John Lewis. It’s not my practice to put personal photos in Sabbath Moment. But this is my way of thanking Sr. Mary for stepping up. We are on the bridge alongside Peggy Wallace Kennedy (daughter of George Wallace) and Donzaleigh Avis Abernathy (daughter of Ralph Abernathy).
This week I watched The 15:17 to Paris, the real life heroism of three men, friends since grade school, who thwarted a terrorist attack. “If something happened, would you know what to do? Would you do it?”
But let us never forget that heroism is grounded in ordinary and extraordinary acts of humanity.
Which takes my mind to my favorite story to tell an audience.
A little boy was having nightmares. The kind that require a momma’s reassurance. (Dads, at least from my own experience, are typically not wired for nightmare duty.) So, to his momma’s room the boy went, “Momma, momma, I’m having nightmares.”
“It’s okay honey,” she told him, “here’s what I want you to do. Go back to your room, kneel down by your bed, pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it.”
Back to his room, the boy knelt by his bed, prayed to Jesus, hopped back in bed, and… more nightmares. All mommas know this story. Back and forth to momma’s room, throughout the night.
On the sixth visit, “Momma, I know, I know, I’m going to go back to my room. I’m going to kneel down by my bed and pray to Jesus and he’ll fix it. But before I do that, can I just lay in bed with you and have you hold me?”
“Sure honey, why?”
“Because sometimes I need Jesus with skin on it.”
The little boy knew the secret. Life is to be found in the embrace. In the presence of the other. In the touch, we can be present. As our southern kin might say, “That’ll preach.” Yes… that’ll preach regardless of your faith or creed. That’ll preach even if you are not a member of any particular faith group. That’ll preach even if you don’t believe. Because in the touch, we can be present. It is the little things that make a difference.
Confession; there’s a part of me that still cannot believe I can make that difference. But gratefully, I know what it is like to have others be Jesus in skin for me. So, whatever I do, is just spillage from the gifts I have already received.
I’m not trying to recruit you. Or even make you feel like you need to add something else to your life. Just the permission to slow down, long enough to recognize that Jesus in skin lives in you, and in those around us.
So here’s the deal: we may never walk Selma. We may never give sermons to masses. We will however, come daily face to face with unkindness or cruelty or discouragement or mercilessness. This is not an assignment or a test. Just an invitation to remember that there are hands to hold. There are hearts to encourage. There are people disconnected and afraid. Be a sanctuary. Offer grace. Spill your light.
Autumn is at our doorstep. I know it’s early. But you can smell it in the air.
And the Bodacious sweet corn is ripe. Of course, I need to go to my friend Phil Volker’s to get it. Raccoons ate all my corn this year.
And we celebrate a day to honor St. Arnold of Soissons. The patron saint of beer. No, it’s not a typo. As abbot in Oudenburg, Arnold brewed beer, as essential in medieval life as water. He encouraged local peasants to drink beer, instead of water, due to its “gift of health.” During the process of brewing, the water was boiled and thus, unknown to all, freed of pathogens, making the beer safer to drink.
Football season is here. My Seahawks had a tough go in Denver.
I did have a great treat today, lunch with Paul and Cheryl Palmer, visiting from So. Cal. I married them 35 years ago. My oh my. Keep spilling your light you two.
It is Rosh Hashanah. For our Jewish brothers and sisters, ‘L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem’ (‘May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year’).
Quote for your week…
“When I come in that door, I’m covered with blood sometimes, and they hug me. They love me, they take care of me, they treat me as a real human being. And then they feed me, and they massage me, and they give me adjustments. These are my people. This is my place. This is where I come to be with God.” A New York firefighter, about the volunteers who worked tirelessly in St. Paul’s chapel. St. Paul’s is the place-adjacent to the World Trade Center-where firefighters and rescue workers ate and slept in the days and weeks that followed the 9/11 tragedy at the World Trade Center.
Note: Ebo story, thanks to Lilly Fowler, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
POEMS AND PRAYERS
The problem with beautiful Catholic imagery is that we can easily convince ourselves we see God when we do not see God.
No one has seen God, so we have to content ourselves with seeing Him in others.
And the most contented people I know are those who have success in this. Fr. Myron McCormick
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
Our Father in Heaven, Creator of the Universe and all Life on Earth
Grant that we recognise the gifts you have given us and keep your name holy always in our hearts and in our communities.
Let your Kingdom grow here on Earth as we do your will; as we love and respect your Creation, your truth and all your people.
Let us ‘act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with you, our God’.
We ask you for our daily bread; for all our needs.
Move us to share with the millions who starve, and have less that they need for a dignified human life.
Forgive us for blindness, for willful ignorance, for the selfishness and greed that lead us to exploit the Earth’s resources for our luxury and comfort.
Forgive us for thus degrading agricultural land, contaminating land and water supplies.
Forgive us for our contribution towards global warming and climate chaos that are further endangering the lives of the poorest people and places on Earth.
Help us to understand and forgive people who feel violence is the only effective method of resolving problems of greed, abuse or injustice.
Lead us, Lord, to see through the temptations of the world to ‘have it all’, cost what it may to those already in the greatest need.
Deliver us from blindness and hardened hearts, from excuses, and lack of understanding others’ suffering and the causes for hatred that are all around us.
The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are yours, Almighty Creator;
Give us the grace to reflect your Kingdom everyday of our lives in this world.