Category Archives: Christianity

Making an Altar for Home

With most of us in the United States (and world-wide) staying safe by staying at home, we are now worshiping virtually with our faith communities via Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, church websites and other platforms. While meeting in this way has proved wonderful for staying connected with the practice of coming together for Sunday services, weekday prayers such as Compline or Morning Prayer, not being in our sanctuaries together has been hard.

We have experienced that the Church is not a building but a community gathered in prayer. We’ve also realized that our homes can also be places of prayer. So as we near the end of our Lenten journey and prepare for Holy Week, perhaps it’s time to create a prayer space at home that is available anytime of day or night to anyone in your household. In the midst of the chaos of homeschooling and worries of this world right now, working together as a household to build a home altar or sacred space may be an excellent way to create order and peace.

It is quite simple and can be done with what you already have at home most likely. Find a surface in a low traffic area such as a window sill, small table, portable tray table, or book shelf. I find it helpful to have it in a quiet area (usually this is on a shelf above my desk so it is always in sight) where there is little “action.” The pictures below are from my new area in my living room – no television or computers in this room!

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The Black Plague, COVID-19, and Julian of Norwich

What do these three things have in common? Plenty! Julian was a Roman Catholic born about 1343 CE and lived during a time of upheaval. The people of Europe were full of anxiety due to the Black Plague, the Hundred Years’ War, and a papal schism. They were yearning for a personal, experiential faith that spawned a growth in Christian mysticism. Not her actual name (which remains a mystery), she is known as Julian because she lived (as a recluse) at St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, England. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the parallels with our world today.

At the age of thirty she became gravely ill soon after Easter. A week later her parish priest visited her, bringing her a crucifix. “Look at it, and be strong,” he said as he gave her last rites. Although she was very weak, she was able to look at the figure of Jesus on the cross, receiving insight into his suffering and love for us. Later she described how the room seemed to go dark as she felt she was about to die, but no longer felt any pain. Over the next twelve hours she saw wonderful things in her mind, as clearly as if they were real. She soon got well and wrote about her fifteen visions (shewings) in what is now called Revelation of Divine Love.

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Absalom Jones of Philadelphia

Absalom Jones (1746-1818) by Raphaelle Peale (Wikipedia Commons)

The life and legacy of Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice, and self-determination. Born a slave, he became one of the founders of the black Episcopal church in America, becoming the first African American Episcopal priest. He was a leading figure among Philadelphia’s African American community (born a slave in 1746 in Delaware, he was manumitted – released from slavery – in 1784) who advocated the abolition of slavery from the pulpit. You can read more about him at the Episcopal Church Archives site. His feast day (day of death) is February 13.

Set us free, Heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Collect for Absalom Jones, February 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 160)

There are many sermons and documents, plus an official portrait of Absalom Jones. Choose more or more of the following to delve deeper into the life of this important American and priest:

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Pilgrimage Reflections: Miracles with Outcasts

Sandwiched between Galilee to the north and Judea to the south, the region of Samaria figures prominently in the history of Israel in both the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. The city of Samaria was founded by Omri, King Ahab’s father, as the capital of Israel in 870 BCE. According to tradition, John the Baptist is buried there. It was also known as an area that worshipped Baal and other gods as well as its people “intermingling” with other tribes in the region. Today is it a dry, but green, land of single mountains, hills, and fields.

Why were Samaritans considered people to be avoided in Jesus’ time? There is an interesting article here about the causes of prejudice in Samaria. They worshipped God at Shechem on Mount Gerizim just as in the time of Joshua, as opposed to the Jews who worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans furthered the rift by producing their own version of the Pentateuch. This is probably why Samaritans were considered people to avoid in Jesus’ time. Even Jesus confronted the woman at the well while passing through this area. Rivalry with the southern kingdom (Judah) and the northern kingdom (Israel) continued through the first century.

Burqin: Luke 17:11-19

On his way to Jerusalem from Nazareth, Jesus passed through the village in Burqin where he heard cries for help from ten lepers who were isolated in quarantine in an underground cave, a common practice at the time for people afflicted with this disease. Today the majority of Burqin’s residents are Muslims and it was reported that only ten Christian families now live in the town. Located on a high hill in the village, Burqin Church (also known as St. George’s or Church of the Ten Lepers) it is the fourth oldest church in the world built in the fourth century. Since the miracle of healing the ten lepers, Christian pilgrims have visited this site as St. Helena asked that a church be built here.

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Pilgrimage Reflections: The Galilean

Jesus spent most of his ministry around the shores of Israel’s largest freshwater lake, the Sea of Galilee, now peppered with ancient synagogues and Christian pilgrimage sites. Known as Kinneret in Hebrew (also called Lake Tiberias, and the Sea of Chinnereth or the Lake of Gennesaret in the Old Testament), it is 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, and about 720 feet below sea level. Today it reminds me of a beach destination, with families coming to swim or boat, with schools of young people learning how to wind surf.

But surrounding the Sea of Galilee are places where Jesus taught and healed. Jesus most likely came here after his time in the desert (following his baptism in the Jordan River). Galilee is a region of Israel/Palestine north of Judea, separated by Samaria and south of Lebanon. Herod Antipas, (21 BCE—39 CE), son of Herod I the Great (read about the Herodium) became tetrarch of Galilee and ruled throughout Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry. Jesus is reported as having referred to him with contempt as “that fox” (Luke 13:32).

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