During his time in graduate school, my brother Andrew lived in the upstairs apartment of an old house. When he moved in, the homeowner explained to Andrew that some years before, the elderly woman who lived upstairs had fallen and died in the apartment. On its own, this didn’t phase Andrew, but next the landlord explained that subsequent tenants had seen strange things in the apartment, indications that the elderly woman’s spirit lingered in that space. Andrew got the woolies, but he was a poor grad student, and the apartment was cheap, so he paid his deposit and moved in.
This sermon was preached at the festive Eucharist for John Hines Day at the Seminary of the Southwest on October 9, 2014. The Most Rev. John E. Hines was the Bishop of Texas and later Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He also served as rector of Christ Church, Houston. I am humbled and honored to sit in his chair.
If you’ve read Ursula Le Guin’s classic “Earthsea” trilogy, you will know this story. If you’ve not read the Earthsea trilogy, why not? Put down Moltmann and the New Interpreter’s Bible, quit worrying about GOEs—they’re still three months away—and pick up Le Guin! She’s the best thing you’ll read this year (unless you read Schleiermacher; nothing is better than Schleiermacher).
Every year four seminary classmates—my best friends in ministry—and I gather for a two-day retreat. During the day we study scripture and theology, and we share case studies in ministry as we help one another become better priests. And the second afternoon we always take a break to do something fun.
Last summer we stayed at a ranch on the edge of the Hill Country, and on Wednesday afternoon we decided to escape the heat by floating on inner tubes down a stretch of the Guadalupe River. We donned our swim suits and loaded up the Rev. Daryl Hay’s minivan. We arrived at the roadside canoe rental stand, paid five dollars apiece for our inner tubes, and then ran like children down the path to the put-in point. As I ran, I imagined floating in deep water in which my feet could dangle. I virtually felt the cool, clear water, and it reminded me I was alive, opened my eyes, and quickened my soul.
It’s one of the most frequent questions I am asked. It’s also one of the most frequent questions that I ask of others. For bibliophiles, the experience of losing oneself in a good book is spiritual. For most of my adult life, I’ve kept a chronicle of the books I’ve read. (Alas, I don’t keep track of journal and magazine articles. Nor do I list the Bible or its consituent books, since I read scripture weekly.) In mid-2007, my old Compaq computer crashed, and I lost my book list up to that point. Here, though, is the list of books I’ve read since fall 2007. (It coincides exactly with my time in Roanoke and Houston.) Reflecting upon this list, I’m reminded how my interests cleave to theology, religion, and history. I’m also reminded (as if I needed reminding) that I love the novels and stories of Wendell Berry. Many of these books were read as part of the various parish book clubs I’ve facilitated. It’s a satisfying experience to read a good book with thoughtful friends.