Weekly Reflections

A weekly commentary by the clergy of All Saints' with the help of inspiration from our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

The Rev. Erin Cox Oney, Associate Priest and Day School Chaplain

The Rev. David Sheetz, Associate

The Rev. Patrice Al-Shatti Taylor, Deacon

Chesirae Valentine, Director of Parish Life

Dr. Craig Westendorf, Interim Director of Music

Dr. Tom Peterson, Director of Music

September 7, 2023 A Reflection from Deacon Patrice Taylor

My first grandchild, Qais, recently turned one year old. My family has seen a lot of death, so I remember how we welcomed this new life last August with great joy. Over the year I’ve watched my son evolve into a wonderful dad and lately we’ve heard him wistfully talk about the end of Qais’s babyhood. He is a 25-pound voracious mass of curiosity now, no longer satisfied snuggling in a parent’s arms and they are losing the race to childproof the house while planning for baby number two. I smile because this is so like life. Every new beginning requires an ending first. Every change brings both opportunity and risk. William Bridges wrote a marvelous book on this subject called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes and noted that “Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one, not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.”


We, as the All Saints’ community, have gone through so much change since our last permanent rector left us in 2020. Change at church, change in our nation, change to all humankind. We lost people and places that defined us. Lost our sense of safety in the world. Many of us even, for a time, almost lost hope. However, endings ultimately do come to an end by their very nature and it’s like monsoon. The air, and streets, and trees are never more gloriously fresh than after a downpour.

We are in that beginning now, my friends. I can feel the energy and hope amongst us. We continue to say goodbye, periodically, to members whom we have loved, but God walks new people into our narthex every week and only God knows what wonderful things they will do here. So, take heart and allow God’s healing to find those places where the last few years hurt you. If you haven’t already, find your tribe, the place of participation in the life of the community that helps you feel like you belong. Practice gratitude, acceptance, and be present in the beautiful details of your daily life. We walk into this new beginning together tentatively, the way my grandson walks his first steps into independence. We will fall, and may eat a few stray dead bugs, as Qais’ dad did when he was little, but we are launching a new life, with new leadership, and renewed commitment to each other, and I can’t wait to see where we go together.

July 13, 2023  A Reflection from Chaplain Erin

FAQs About the New Priest


Q: What do we call you, Mother? Reverend? Pastor?

A: The kids call me Chaplain Erin, and I really like that.


Q: How long have you lived in the valley?

A: I moved to Phoenix as a Fresh Out in 1982. I worked for Intel, and they transferred me here as a Technical Sales Engineer. They promised to return me to the mother ship in two years.

Fast forward two years, and I was married to my husband Rich, and we had a new baby. There was no way I was going to return to Northern California.


Q: How long have you been associated with All Saints’?

A: When Rich and I married in 1983 (yes, I am THAT old), Rich and I found a church home at All Saints’. We had our kids (and one of our grandkids) baptized here. They were confirmed here. My oldest son and his wife were married here. I volunteered at the church and the school. This was our home.


Q: Why did you leave?

A: When the Episcopal church down the street began its school, Christ Church School hired me as the school chaplain. When I was in seminary, I did my internship at Christ Church of the Ascension. Once I was ordained as a priest, they offered me a job as half school chaplain and half priest. I loved the job! It was the perfect balance for me.


Q: Are you glad to be back?

A: My cup overflows! I am beginning a new adventure here at All Saints’. I get to return to my church home AND do the job I love! It is like living the dream I had when I started the ordination process.

To make it even better, I have been warmly welcomed back to my church family! Thank you to everyone who reached out with a note or a call! It has been a blessing to see old friends and meet new ones!


Q How does your family feel about your return to All Saints’?

A: They are universally delighted. As the only priest in the family, I am something of the Pied Piper. They have been following my lead and worshipping at Christ Church. Everyone is excited to come back to All Saints’. We all have the feeling of homecoming.


Q: How do we get a hold of you?

A: My email address is ecoxoney@allsaintsoncentral.org, or just call the Church Office at 602.279.5539 and ask for me. I look forward to getting to know everyone. Please feel free to reach out. I will be on both sides of the parking lot, serving at the church and the school. You’ll know it’s me with a big smile on my face. God is so good.

July 6, 2023   A Reflection from Chesirae Valentine

The last Sunday of June, James and I moved one mile north, out of our small apartment in the historic Garfield district to an even smaller house in the Coronado neighborhood. We packed up our house and pulled down our artwork, pushing our two cats into an unhappy joint carrier. Because it was a Sunday, I left for the Church around 7:10 AM, but not before a dozen friends drove up to help load and unload the U-Haul.


I know the passage is “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” But I think that, in the middle of an Arizona summer, the verse could be revised to, “No one has greater love than this, to move heavy objects in 95 degree heat for your friends.” James and I have always been blessed with remarkable friends in our life. So when James sent out a text for help earlier that week, I expected one or two people to show up. But instead – in addition to promises of house plants, food and organizing – a bunch of the Peregrinos also showed up at 6:00 AM to move our furniture, pantry and books into our new home.


For a Sunday morning, the Peregrinos abandoned the Sunday pew and kept Sabbath in a different way. Between the donuts and coffee, the book boxes and bed frame, I was reminded of how powerful simple service could be. Because our friends loved us, moved for us, stacked boxes and chairs on dusty hardwood floors, James and I could rest a little easier. Because our friends loved us with their sweat and hands as well as their good cheer and prayers, we were able to settle into a new home, blessed by our friends’ labor.


If you haven’t met the Peregrinos yet, I encourage you to seek them out. You can see them in the ministries of All Saints’, in the pews laughing in surprise and delight at organ blasts and clever hymns. They’re next to you in the communion line and serving you coffee in the narthex. Find them, get to know the remarkable way they love the world – with eyes open to both the beauty and the baseness of the world, their hands reaching out to heal what parts they can – even if it’s just moving a box, or planting a garden, or sorting   donations.


Dorothy Day wrote in the Long Loneliness that “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” The Peregrinos have chosen to embody that duty of radical, tireless hope, volunteering Saturdays with Andre House in July. If you want to get to know them a little better, there may be no better way than to roll your sleeves up and join them.

June 15, 2023 A Reflection from Dr. Craig Westendorf

Psalms and More Psalms


By 1541 Henry VIII had dissolved or sold off all the monasteries in England, Wales, and Ireland.  This was one of the biggest transfers of wealth in Western history.  Outside total warfare, it was also the biggest mass cessation of liturgy in Western history, an event that I find very little comment on.  The canonical hours of Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers were no longer observed and celebrated.  Most painful in the life of the Church Universal was the complete absence of the regular recitation of all 150 Psalms in the English church.


I like to think that the English reformers, Thomas Cranmer in particular, felt in their hearts what a great deficit this was, and when they had the chance after the death of Henry VIII they decided to move rapidly ahead with a new program to restore the reading and singing of the Psalter to the Anglican Church.  The Book of Common Prayer of 1549, a remarkable achievement in its incorporation of elements of the ancient Sarum (Salisbury) rite and developments in evangelical Germany, established that the entire Psalter be heard once a month.  This was confirmed again during the Restoration in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, a source which remains normative in many ways, especially if your personal faith resounds with the cadences of Rite I.  (I continue to grow in amazement at the Eucharistic Prayer—every phrase drips with the scriptural experience of the whole Church.)


Remarkable here is that liturgical disaster was turned into a historically unique liturgical opportunity: The celebration of the Psalms is longer the task of the convents and monasteries, but of the whole congregation.  This is Anglicanism’s greatest liturgical legacy to the Western Church.  It is no accident that the Book of Common Prayer contains all 150 Psalms, while the service books of almost every other Protestant denomination have only the Psalms as assigned in the lectionary for Sunday and Feasts.   The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 lays out a monthly cycle for the whole Psalter, a norm found beginning on p936 of the Book of Common Prayer now in use.


Reality in parish life of monthly recitation of the entire Psalter is otherwise, which is why I was led to reflect on this in the first place.   There is no doubt that the Psalter is the prayer book of Christ.  When we pray the Psalms, Christ prays with us.  The Psalms of vengeance that are so uncomfortable when we make them personal need not be so.  Christ has taken on this vengeance to free his enemies, and so we can pray with Christ in our hearts.  When the Psalmist seems to advocate his own righteousness, we can in surety claim these words—these are the words of Christ, and we claim this righteousness in faith.  This faith makes us bold to proclaim the Psalms.  The more deeply we grow into the Psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)


One hundred fifty Psalms in a month—that’s only about five a day.   You will not be doing this alone.  After all, at any hour Morning and Evening Prayer is being celebrated somewhere.  More importantly, Christ praying not only for, but also with his saints, remains into eternity.


April 27, 2023  A Reflection from Chesirae Valentine

My husband and I love hosting meals. James is the one who cooks most of the time, and I -- well, I invite people to eat his food. I send out texts and emails, convince people they should drive half an hour to our tiny, downtown home, where we will all squeeze 10 chairs around a 6 chair table.  Any more than that, and we borrow our friend Maureen’s table and chairs. While James chops and stirs, I answer knocks at the door and requests for cocktails. Dust bunnies are determinedly ignored; and spilled wine applauded as punctuation for good evening conversation. Though it may be frivolous, it’s one of the things James and I agree most foundationally on -- feeding the soul is not fundamentally different from feeding the body; a good meal can be revelatory for relationships.


There’s sound scriptural reinforcement for this. Far from being a merely social event, Christ creates feasts that also feed the desire for understanding and love. In Chapter 14 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus watches the shuffle and shove that happens for the seats of honor at the feasting table. He offers the parable of a marriage feast in response. Later, as Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors, he offers the parables of the lost sheep, the lost silver coin, and the prodigal son to respond to his critics (14:7-32). Meals, for Christ, are not about the pomp and status, but the lessons and understanding that can be shared through a common meal and experience together. The table becomes a safe place to be confused, to wonder, to seek understanding and healing. Even after the resurrection, on the way to Emmaus, it is only after breaking the bread -- literally sitting at a meal together, serving and being served -- that the two disciples recognize Jesus. No argument, no ritual, no lesson could give them peace or resurrect their hope. But a meal could.


We often forget that Jesus did not make a mere ceremony from a meal. He sought to make it something lived daily, a place where people could be broken, uninvited, unclean, uncertain and needy, but still welcomed, still loved, and still allowed to need together. As simple as it seems, meals are not intended to be ceremonies; they are not meant to be beautifully curated events with cultivated guest lists. They are intended to feed us; they are meant to connect us.


But how often do we want to feast with or be fed by others? How isolated we have become! We tell ourselves we are valued for how many tasks we accomplish and


achieve in a day, for what work we alone have done to earn our rest. We don’t stop for anything but coffee; friendships take second place to perfection. Even if we  do stop for a meal, we demand a strange excellence of it — spotless house, instagrammable meal. But, if we come to the table as Christ intended, the mad frenzy for perfection stops. We come to a place of rest, of welcome. 


By reminding us that we are material and need material, a good meal forces us to feel our fragility, our hunger, our createdness — feelings we actively avoid in the realm of ideals and adulthood. To feel that fragility and humanity is inconvenient. It is humbling. It hurts. Allowing ourselves to need other people, a rest, God demands a humility and charity that we do not often cultivate. But we are not called to the convenient. We are not called to the frenzy. We’re called to the table. We are called to need each other, we are called to truth. The sooner we realize that we are all the maimed and blinded, that we are all needy and hungry and unsure, the sooner we can set aside our deadlines and divisions and focus on the feast.


We are all travelers to Emmaus. No matter how much we talk and argue and interpret, it is only when we invite others to break bread with us that we can see Christ in the world. So let us extend the ceremony to a daily celebration. This isn’t about being a perfect host. This isn’t about creating the perfect feast. This meal is about serving. It is about being served. We do not live by bread alone, but rather by love that is created when we break it.


March 23, 2023 A Reflection from Deacon Patrice Taylor

I preach at All Saints’ this weekend on the raising of Lazarus and it has me thinking a lot about resurrections and all their permutations. The cycle of life, death, and rebirth happens to be playing itself out in wild abandon all around us right now, saying that no matter how long and unusual the Winter, the Spring is as inexorable as the Summer that follows it. And it has been a long and chilly winter, here in the Valley of the Sun. Unlike almost any I can remember. Even though I know the heat is coming, I find myself relieved that the bathroom floor isn’t so cold any more, and I’m browsing the internet looking for blouses with flowers on them even though today is a little chilly and I’m wrapped in a blanket while I write. It’s a time of transition. Sacred space between one uncomfortable thing and another incredibly uncomfortable thing. But now? Now when the lupines are busting out purple in the mountain that’s a short walk from my front door and the brittlebush, Mexican gold poppies, and desert marigolds are all shades of gold? Now is wonderful. Now is resurrection. I hope you are present to it because it’s only for a little while, like the wildflower you pick on a hike that’s bent and wilted by the time you get home. Don’t try to capture it for later. See life, really see it, right now.

That kind of present-minded seeing requires us keep our minds out of last winter, or worse yet, out of the grueling misery of July. To participate in this particular resurrection, we must be here, now. And the way our minds work makes that a challenge. Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, teaches that the voice we listen to inside our head is constantly choosing what to pay attention to and what to ignore. It narrates our reality. It is a kind of preprocessing that controls our experience of reality and it does this as a protection mechanism, a way to control things. Every one of us has this internal, often distressing chatter, and it’s really just our attempt to hold ourselves together. The one who is silent and listening, however... that’s really you. And that you is the doorway to the depths of your being. The path to resurrection.

Maybe today try this. Take your allergy medicine and go for a walk and just be in your body in silence. Notice your neighbor’s blooming plants. Smell the grape soda fragrance of the mountain laurel and the heavy loveliness of the orange blossoms. Go to your garden center and feel the soft petals of the flowers. Pick something up and take it home to plant. Clean your windows and see the sunshine. Dust your patio table and have a picnic. Hear the voice in your head with its worries and problem solving and just relax, breathe, and let those thoughts pass by. It’s a short, beautiful, inspiring season and you don’t want to miss a day of it.

March 16, 2023  A Reflection from Chesirae Valentine

Last week, my husband and I attended Purim at Beth El Synagogue. A cacophony of colors and noise greeted us: children and adults in Star Trek and cowboy costumes, our rabbi clothed in her brightly buttoned hat and contagious joy; rattles, clappers and ribbon wands rattled, clacked and waved. Families and individuals met over tables spread with hamantaschen crumbs and candy wrappers. After a meal of chili, potatoes and the best popsicle I’ve ever had, we all gathered to read the megillah – The Book of Esther – together.

Every time I go to Beth El, I’m warmly embraced; my name is asked by several people, the rabbi always gives me her biggest smile. I’m always given an English/Hebrew book, a pamphlet to clarify aspects of the service, and an invitation to lunch afterward. I’ve been many times now, but each time the sound of chanted Hebrew startles and delights a dormant part of my soul. In an Episcopal church – or really, any reformed or Catholic service – I am conversant, if not fluent, in its traditions and sacraments. In a synagogue, I’m reminded of my more essential nature: I am a beloved stranger, walking in strange lands.

Reading Hebrew – whether sung in liquid, sparkling syllables or harsh, stumbling phrases is a communal task. The readings are split up between several people, all of whom can read Hebrew fluently enough to know when to turn the pages. I, of course, cannot, and so I listen carefully for the names I recognize – Moshe, Elohim, Shmuel – in the stories I’ve learned by heart. I can track the arc of the story by the excitement in the voices in those who read, and I listen carefully as I skim an English translation of the text, trying to pinpoint the exact moment I should sit, stand, or bow.

Purim, however, makes my listening significantly easier – any time the name Haman makes its way into a verse, the crowd boos, hisses and rattles. The architect of a genocide is still named, but his name is drowned by the cries of the descendants of those he tried to kill. There’s a lesson in that that even a stranger like myself can see.

The joy of Purim is infectious, but the moment that snagged my attention was the argument that Mordecai and Esther have in Chapter 4. “Perhaps,” whispers Mordecai, “You were born for a time such as this.” Surrounded by rattles and hisses (Haman’s name comes only a few verses after this line), I sympathized with Queen Esther’s fear – the boldness of Queen Vashti led to her exile and almost death; after that, how could Esther risk such a thing? But Mordecai’s answer is full of faith and hope – perhaps she was given the power, position and talents she has for this exact time, this exact situation. Perhaps she was born to be the salvation of the Jews, to shield her people from their imperial annihilation, the way countless of Jewish heroes have before and after her.

What makes Esther different, however, is the way her heroic actions are expressed. The Book of Esther is famous because it is one of only two biblical books not to have the name of God written in it – there are no explicit prayers, no commandments or prophets. Instead, its providence is clear: Vashti, Esther and Mordecai are the hands of God in the world; their actions will determine the fate of the Jews. The faith that they carry, the courage they cultivate, will be the solution or condemnation for an entire generation. They take this responsibility seriously; their lives are formed by their knowledge that God has no hands, features nor face in this time but theirs.

What would happen if we took the same approach to our lives? What if we too, took the words of Mordecai seriously, and believed that we were born for such a time as this? That Jesus will have no other face than ours, no other features than the relationships we build as the Body of Christ in the world? So often it is fear and doubt that hold us back from loving and just action: are we doing this right? Will we be accepted? What if we fail? What if I can’t act like a saint, but only like myself? What if I’m not faithful like Esther, wise like Mordecai, bold like Vashti? What if I don’t have the time, money, or talent?

But what Mordecai tells Esther is true for us too – we were born for a time such as this. Whatever we find ourselves in the midst of, we have the gifts and talents needed to shield others from the worst evils of the world. Like Esther, Mordecai and Vashti, we cannot let our doubt and fear overwhelm our call to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

Purim has four mitzvot (commandments) to complete: charity, gift giving, reading the Book of Esther, and partying. Here is what I, stranger though I am, will translate for you: give of yourself freely – your time, your talents, your smile and your welcome; receive gifts from others – their presence, their helping hands, their questions and concerns; read the wise words from holy women and men – their lives were given to rending you there are as many ways to be a saints as there are people in this world; and, above all things, be so loud in your joy and hospitable in your heart that even the stranger in our midst cannot help but celebrate.

March 2, 2023           A Reflection from Fr. David Sheetz


[Carl] Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) (1926 – 2022) was an American author, Presbyterian minister, preacher, and theologian. The author of thirty-nine published books, his work encompassed different genres, including fiction, autobiography, essays and sermons, and his career spanned more than six decades.

He was very influential for me in my own spiritual development and sensibility. I have read everything he published at least once, many several times over the years.

In the first part of his two-part memoir “The Sacred Journey”, he reflects on those who have come before us but still continue to affect us and how we live. He was reflecting particularly on his grandmother.

“How they do live on, those giants of our childhood, and how well they manage to take even death in their stride because although death can put an end to them right enough, it can never put an end to our relationship with them. Wherever or however else they may have come to life since, it is beyond a doubt that they live still in us. Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer; it is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still. The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things. Dead and gone though they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us – and through them we come to understand ourselves – in new ways too.

Who knows what “the communion of saints” means, but surely it means more than just that we are all of us haunted by ghosts because they are not ghosts, these people we once knew, not just echoes of voices that have years since ceased to speak, but saints in the sense that through them something of the power and richness of life itself not only touched us once long ago, but continues to touch us. They have their own business to get on with now, I assume – “increasing in knowledge and love of Thee,” says the Book of Common Prayer, and moving “from strength to strength,” which sounds like business enough for anybody – and one imagines all of us on this shore fading from them as they journey ahead toward whatever new shore may await them; but it is as if they carry something of us on their way as we assuredly carry something of them on ours. That is perhaps why to think of them is a matter not only of remembering them as they used to be but of seeing and hearing them as in some sense they are now. If they had things to say to us then, they have things to say to us now too, nor are they by any means always things we expect or the same things.” (emphasis mine)

February 23, 2023  A Reflection from Deacon Patrice Taylor

I play the viola just well enough to participate in an orchestra and last weekend my ensemble performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Wow. It runs 70 minutes long and is one of the most complex pieces of music I’ve ever encountered. The fourth and last movement introduces vocalists for the first time in an orchestral piece of music. They join for the famous “Ode to Joy”, based on Friedrich Schiller’s haunting poem. “Joy, beautiful spark of Divinity. Thy magic binds again what custom strictly divided. All people become brothers where thy gentle wing abides.” The poem thrills at romantic love, the joys of nature, and the beauty of friendship. It is, essentially, an ode to gratitude, and was finished in 1824, more than 25 years after Beethoven started to lose his hearing. He sought all kinds of medical care and even had a period of suicidal depression, but was deaf by age 30, prompting an end to his performances, but not his composing.

Despite a nearly lifelong struggle, he wrote his 9th symphony three years before his death at age 56 — and it is a joyful avalanche of happiness. It was said by onlookers at the premiere that Beethoven stood in front of the actual conductor “and threw himself back and forth like a madman,” trying to guide the musicians. After the sudden and powerful ending, he may have been several bars off and still conducting. A soloist walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause, it is said.

This man spent the majority of his adult life recovering from a fatal blow of fate and ended his time joyfully singing of the beauties of life. He was not bitter, and his mind and heart, which long ago had memorized the rules of composition didn’t need him to hear. They just required him to write. “Be embraced, Millions! This kiss to all the world! Brothers, above the starry canopy there must dwell a loving Father.”

Beethoven saw God in nature, in his relationships, and in his great gift, and, like Paul notes in his second letter to the Corinthian church, God’s grace was quite sufficient because His power was made perfect in weakness. His life is a model to us, an ode to joy. I want to be jumping around “like a madman” a couple of years before I die, doing things I love, grateful for God’s provisioning, happily pouring out my gifts for the world. I bet you do too. Where, this Lent, is your weakness? Where is your great pain? And where are your joys? When do you let your gifts pour out like gushing water? When are your moments of flow and what are you waiting for? Now is the season to settle quietly inside yourself and answer these questions. There is a urgency because each of our days is precious and God, alone, has counted them.

February 9, 2023  A Reflection from Fr. Dan Burner

One good thing about Lent is that it comes relatively soon after we have just realized that we are not keeping, or never made, our New Year’s Resolutions! Lent then becomes another opportunity to make a new start. Sometimes it feels like both the end of the year and Lent sneak up on us. In the midst of a busy year end and the rushed first months of the year we are suddenly being asked to make amendments to our lives when both of these times of reflection should be taken

more seriously with a level of preparation that is appropriate. 

The end result is that the resolutions we make, and Lenten sacrifices to which we commit, are often too demanding, or worse superficial. This leads to feelings of despair when we fail to keep our commitments or realize that they did not really make a difference.

Should we really take these times of commitment seriously? What difference does it make to follow this practice each New Year and Lenten Season? How can these practices, especially that of Lenten Sacrifices be more useful and ultimately meaningful to our lives?

We are told that the Kingdom of God has been at hand now for over 2000 years. What does that mean? John the Baptizer told Jesus about it at his baptism and Jesus mentions it in all the synoptic Gospels. It makes me think about the Taizé lyric (click here to hear) that says, “ The Kingdom of God is Justice and Peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit…” That doesn’t sound that much like a place as it does about a being, a presence, a consciousness. Kingdoms as we experience them on this earth have traditionally been about geography and are ruled over by monarchs who are more and too often less benevolent. But if they are “justice and peace” then geography does not work. And, how do we find this, “. . . joy in the Holy Spirit . . . ” We know that the Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity, but too often even priests admit that they cannot explain what that means.

What if finding “ . . . joy in the Holy Spirit . . .” when accomplished, helps us to understand the relationship between God and Christ? Where can we find this “joy”? The Taizé song continues, “ . . . Come Lord and open in us the gates of your kingdom.” If the gates of this kingdom are opened in us by the grace of God, then maybe as Jesus says to a Scribe in Mark 12.34: “When he saw that he answered wisely, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” The Scribe had said to Jesus, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

So then Lent is only weeks away. Here is your advance notice. It’s time to begin to think about what Lenten discipline could begin to open in you the “gates” of the kingdom of God? And a Lenten discipline practiced well for forty days can become something truly meaningful.

February 2, 2023 A Reflection from Fr. David Sheetz

The Presentation: Candlemas -- Christ the Light of the World

Light – as astronomical body, as symbol, as metaphor – is the primary theme of the season of Epiphany: we have the star of Bethlehem which guided the Magi, Jesus as the Light of the World, and Jesus as the Light in our lives. On February 2 we celebrate the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.

According to the Mosaic law, a mother who had given birth to a boy was considered unclean for seven days; moreover, she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification”; for a girl the time which excluded the mother from sanctuary was doubled. When the time (forty or eighty days) was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtle dove for a sin offering” (Leviticus 12.2-8); if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest would then pray for her and so she was cleansed.

Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple, and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess. (Luke 2.22-40) No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. But the feast then had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after “Epiphany.” What this means is that in Jerusalem at this time, Epiphany was celebrated as the feast of Christ’s birth.

From Jerusalem the feast of the fortieth day spread over the entire Church, and later on was kept on the 2nd of February, since within the last twenty-five years of the fourth century the Roman feast of Christ’s nativity was placed on December 25th. The association of candles with this feast did not enter into common use before the eleventh century.

At one time, especially in the Western church, this feast was oriented toward Mary, and this was reflected in its name, “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” But because this appeared to threaten the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary, in modern times the Roman church reverted to the more ancient understanding of the Eastern church, which celebrated this day as the “Presentation of the Lord.” This more nearly conformed to its various designations in the East; “Coming of the Son of God into the Temple” (Armenian); “Presentation of the Lord in the Temple” (Egyptian); “The Meeting of the Lord” (Byzantine). The shift in title reflects a shift in emphasis: it is intended to be a feast of the Lord and not a feast honoring Mary. There is also an ancient practice of associating this feast with the blessing of the candles which would be used throughout the rest of the church year.

Since this feast takes place forty days after Jesus’ birth, it has an incarnational cast. Traditionally celebrated on February 2nd, the fortieth day after Christmas, it serves to make the end of the Christmas Season. This feast is also seen as the turning point towards the season of Lent. While Anna is portrayed as having a mystic’s awareness of the presence of God, Simeon is different; he had been promised that he would see the Messiah. Simeon came to the temple, in answer to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to find the child who was to be the ‘glory of Israel’. He did not expect to see anything special in the material way, but he did expect to recognize the child because he was a man of faith and knew that he would not die until he had seen the promised one.

The child was to be a ‘light to enlighten the gentiles’ — a light which dispelled the darkness of the ignorance and sin. Simeon did not look forward to a military triumph or an earthly kingdom, but to the reconciliation of humanity with God and the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He knew that there were those who would not welcome the light because they preferred the darkness, as it was a better cover for dubious deeds; that is why he said the child was destined for the rise and fall of many.

When Christ spoke of himself as the light of the world he said:

‘I am the light of the world.

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness

but will have the light of life.’

(John 8.12)

It is a light given to those who have faith, who recognize Christ and choose his way; when Christ comes in glory the time for choice will be over. For those of us who live in the eschatological pause (between the coming of the kingdom and its final manifestation) there is a kindly light, but no overwhelming brilliance. At times the flame flickers and the light grows faint, but it never goes out unless we deliberately quench it by rejecting Christ.

The feast we celebrate is the last feast of Christmas; the candles which we use are a symbol to remind ourselves that Christ came to give us light and life. The relation between light and life is felt most keenly in the darkness of night, and during the dull days of winter. So, as you read this, the sun may be shining brightly, we may have to use our imaginations to get the full benefit of these light and darkness symbols and metaphors. Even in those parts of the world that are rich enough to turn night into day with the flick of a switch, darkness remains a threat and light a blessing. When we pray for the dead, we pray that ‘light perpetual may shine upon them’, that they will have life eternal in the radiance of heaven.

Simeon’s prayer became the night prayer of the Church through the ages. The Nunc Dimittis (the choir signs a setting every month at Evensong) is among the most beautiful and enduring of all prayers; to have had our way illuminated and to depart in peace at the end of it, is the final fulfillment of a life lived in the service of God.

There is an ancient antiphon associated with Candlemas which sums up the piety of the feast:

The old man carried the child,

but the child was the old man’s King.

A virgin gave birth to that child, yet remained a virgin:

the one she bore she also adored.

January 26, 2023 A Reflection from Chesirae Valentine

My journey from atheism to Christianity was slow and weary. The consistent wind of Beauty and Love blew against the upright figure of my fearful heart, eroding its car-alarm attitude into something softer and more hopeful – less of a harsh shriek and more of a sibilant hum. But – the same way it takes time for stone and sand to yield to the wind – my conversion took years. Enormous amounts of reading, hours of conversations, many long hikes and a few fights were required for me to get to the point where I was willing to be baptized. It took another six years and a masters in theology for me to be confirmed. A convicting and resounding, “Yes!” has not always been my rallying cry.

In the book of Acts, however, we see conviction pouring out from Saul in powerful shouts and poisoned words. Saul – who not only watched the stoning of St. Stephen, but happily held everybody’s coats so they could throw harder – was decidedly convicted against the new followers of Christ. One could even say zealously convicted. But despite his violence and antipathy toward Christianity, his conversion to it was nearly immediate.

On the road to Damascus (where Saul is traveling with friends to wreak havoc upon the Christian community living there), a light from heaven stunned Saul. Falling to the ground, Saul hears a voice crying, “Why do you persecute me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go to Damascus, and you will be told what you are to do”. Saul, blinded by the light and unable to navigate the way himself, relied on his traveling companions to lead him by the hand to Damascus. He waited there without eating or drinking for three days, until a disciple named Ananais came to heal him on Christ’s orders. Ananais, by the way, is fairly dubious about healing the person who has been persecuting Christians, but does as he is told in his trust and love for God’s plan.

Though the light came to Saul all at once, Saul’s conversion teaches us that conversion is not a solitary act, a single moment of individual revelation. It is a life-long decision to remain trusting and open to the love and care of Christ, a continual series of choices by which we remind ourselves that we are always in the midst of transformative co-creation with God and our community. It is not an accident that Saul must be led by the hand, nor that Christ sends Ananais to Saul, reluctant as he is. But Saul’s friends sought to help him in his conversion, holding his hand all the way to Damascus. Ananais, trusting in Christ, has his own conversion moment: in laying hands on and healing Saul, Ananais names him, “Brother Saul”. He welcomes him into an intimate relationship with himself and the Holy Spirit, turning them both more fully toward our triune God by his love and trust.

For my own conversion, a series of quieter relationships changed the trajectory of my life: a librarian-gifted a copy of East of Eden in middle school; a patient and somewhat bemused Greek professor helped me translate the Gospel of John; a summer job supervisor welcomed me to what would become my foster family. Every moment pushed me a little further down the road to where I am now.

This is what conversion does. These people didn’t seek to do amazing, generous, holy things, just as Saul’s traveling companions did not set out to change Saul’s life forever. They just committed -- completely, joyfully and authentically -- to trust their own journeys and God in everything they did. They committed to saying a small, “Yes” over and over: a yes to taking risks, a yes to hospitality, a yes to educating and feeding and loving whatever and whoever God put in their path. They could have said, “No.” Ananais almost does say, “No,” in his fear for his Christian friends and family. It is a choice, after all, to love and serve; to continuously convert to God’s plan.

But because the people in my life didn’t say, “No”, they were able to shelter a poor, hurt child from the worst effects of poverty, pain and neglect, so that one day she could say “Yes” to doing the same work. Because Ananias and Saul’s friends choose to say, “Yes” to guiding, healing, and welcoming him, he becomes one of the brightest beacons of love in Christian faith: St. Paul.

On this feast of The Conversion of St. Paul, never doubt that you are too far down the road to turn your heart, nor that those you meet there have traveled beyond your love.

January 19, 2023 A Reflection from Deacon Patrice Taylor

Our atmosphere is forming rivers that wash whole communities away while drought threatens Arizona farmers. Governments appear to be in disarray and a new contagious disease is weaving itself into the fabric of American daily life. Over all these events, as if they weren’t enough, we hear the dissonant music of the broken information superhighway.

“Do you think someone invented Covid in a lab?” a friend asked me the other day. “What?” “I don’t know. I just saw it online.”

Life seems to be getting unnecessarily and unhelpfully complex or maybe I’m just tired. I bet, like me, you are billed for things you stopped subscribing to long ago, were the victim of some kind of scam you’re trying to unravel, and can’t get through the bank’s voicemail system in under ten minutes. I have, in some attempt to modulate the noise, sworn off the news simply because I can’t handle all that dire and contradictory intel. I’m a firm believer in recognizing that my sphere of concern is way bigger than my sphere of influence and that I’ll be a much healthier person if I focus on the second.

Into this stress walks Joan Chittister’s beautiful book, “The Monastic Heart”. I heartily recommend it to you. Written during the most frightening moments of the pandemic, it urges each of us to remember that at heart, we are spiritual beings seeking a spiritual life. She reminds us that every spiritual tradition has a monastic stream of influence that feeds it and that these ideas are rich and wonderful possibilities for us to live a sane life in a confusing and scary time. In the book, she explores fifty different monastic practices and adapts them for 21st century life so that “we can begin to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well.”

Monastics do not sleep in the same space, for instance. Members of a community each have their own room. Translated for our lives, where and when do you have quiet and privacy? Everyone needs to “have a door between herself and the rest of the world” at least once a day.

In my personal daily rhythm, I have tried to make a few changes with the coming of the new year and am beginning to reap the rewards of this effort in a greater calmness and clarity of mind. I write from my soul for two pages first thing in the morning and practice centering prayer at the end of a day. Altogether, it takes less than an hour. What can help you, I wonder, to withdraw a little from the chaos? As the poet Rumi once said, “A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could be given you.” We cannot leave society and move to a mountaintop abbey, but we can live differently in the world, in a way that survives the shifts and turns of modern life, because we are grounded in something ageless.

January 11, 2023 A Reflection from Fr. Dan Burner

Now that the Christmas holidays are over and we begin to move back into what might be thought of as a normal time, I have found that time seems to be moving in two directions simultaneously. The days seem to pass quickly, but so much going on in each of them. It’s not that feeling that not enough is being accomplished, rather there seems to be a great sense of accomplishment.

As these days go by, it gives me the opportunity to take moments to cherish the important times. Only a week ago, I was with my children. I have two lovely daughters who are married with two children each; a boy and a girl. And even with the news of the world and the problems of life around us and the difficulty of all relationships; taking the time to make certain that the people in your life know that you love them is important and, receiving love from the little persons in your life; all this brings meaning to life. It is part of the gift of life that we each receive through our birth into this world.

Another gift we receive is through our relationship with God. People wonder about why there seems to be a need for humans to have a belief in a higher power; it’s in our genes. Maybe this goes back to the beginning of creation, when we came out of dust swirling in the cosmos and began to form through time into the creatures we are today. The miracle that what we experience in our mere existence came into being to give us the gift of God’s abundant love. There is no way to separate ourselves from the creation as we continue to be one with creation. What is most important is to know that what we and all of humanity have experienced in life is born out of the first light that dawned on all creation. Further as Christians, we must be grateful for the birth of a child who knew the fulness and glory of God’s love and shared it with the world.

If you want to explore this further, come to Adult Formation this Sunday when we can discuss Fr. Richard Rohr’s book “THE UNIVERSAL CHRIST; How a Forgotten Reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe.”

December 22, 2022 A Reflection from Deacon Patrice Taylor

At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were all so scared, a young woman with fierce and beautiful white tattoos came into my orbit. My kids and I meet for pancakes on Sundays since their dad died, and as important people come into our individual lives, they join us. In 2020 those meals were in a park near my house because no one dared gather inside. So I got to know Simon, as she called herself, or 32 year old Katherine, if you read the news report. She was slim as a reed, quiet, an artist who tacked giant pieces of canvas to her apartment walls and attacked them with color. Her life story unfolded in bits and pieces over the months as she sat next to my oldest son. Victimization of all kinds. Trauma upon trauma. A river of it wide, deep, and turbulent. She longed for healing and took to growing plants from tiny sprouts. She brought me three of them one Sunday. A sweet gift of life.

Eventually, their relationship burned out. It’s hard to be with someone, I think, when you can barely be with yourself. I’m not sure what happened, but I know hard feelings were involved. The kind of drama filled flame out most of us dread and many experience. Apparently, about a month ago she texted him in apology. And he hesitated. It’s hard to know where boundaries should be because some people don’t seem able to change. And it’s hard for us to look at any role we played in the estrangement. Sometimes it’s the people we most care about who we ultimately judge harshest, who we are most tempted to write off.

Then last Wednesday happened. At 10:30pm she was thrown from her truck in a hit and run accident and never made it up from the cold pavement. My son found out on Friday and in his anguish and guilt, he cried out something I will never forget, “If I knew on Wednesday she’d be gone by Friday...” He has spent the days since, filling in the end of that sentence.

As we step into Christmas, the incarnation of Jesus, the day God told us exactly how much he loves us, what about your difficult relationship? And what would you do if you knew you had two days to do it? “There’s only love in the heart of God,” says singer songwriter Zach Williams. “He’s not sitting there shaking His head, writing you off, leaving you lost.” So, who are we, I wonder, to ever do differently? Who are we to do the oh so human things we do when people repeatedly bite the hand extended to them? This sacred week, is there grace you should extend? The babe in the manger covers us all in forgiveness four months from now. It’s not beyond us to bury our burdens at His feet because there is only love in God’s heart. As we approach Sunday morning’s breathtaking reminder of this most important hope, what is in yours?

December 15, 2022   A Reflection from Fr. Dan Burner

It’s no wonder that the Advent and Christmas seasons are full of emotions. Advent as a time of preparation, when we recall the prophesies of long dead prophets that come to their fullness in the birth of Jesus into a world of chaos and woe. Christmas with its opportunity to be monetized by the commercial forces of our societies to the extent that an entire year’s profit must be accumulated during this one short time.

In the waiting we may find too much time to dwell in the past. To ruminate on the regrets and losses that accompany any life of some years, regrets and losses that are real and sometimes very painful. We must hold these amid our search to amend our lives in the days to come in the hope of more meaningful and joyful memories. Advent calls to us transform ourselves and others. This is why Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is still so powerful for us even when we have read or seen it many times, played by many different actors.

Ebenezer Scrouge is transformed by the memories of the past, the reality of the present, and the hope of the future. Much of his past is painful; loneliness, loss, and betrayal. But his past also contains joy, hope and happiness. His present reveals how his hardness of heart blocks him from enjoying the life this is all about him in his family, his peers, and his employee. It is the fear of the future that makes his transformation complete. Faced with what might be, he decides to change his life and transform not only himself but those around him.

It is Christmas when his transformation takes place. The day that he observes the new dawn and begins immediately to make a difference in the lives of others. We too look for Christmas to be the magic day that brings happiness. But if it’s just one day, if the transformation does not live into the time ahead, we are doomed to repeat the patterns of the past. Dickens ends his short book this way:

“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

We might think that the “Total Abstinence Principle” is about the consumption of alcohol. But in fact, Dickens is making a pun. It referred to the fact that he was not troubled anymore by the spirits, the images that led him to his transformation. In so doing he began to live his life in the present for the benefit for all those around him. We could only hope for that level of transformation. In fact, Dickens shows us a process for reflection about our lives and way forward. My hope is that as each of us travels the Advent Road we may use this time to learn from out past and transform our futures for the love and God and the world.

December 8, 2022  A Reflection from Chesirae Valentine, Our Director of Parish Life

Christmases for my family were never celebrated in church. Instead, my mother would take my brother and me to different places: one year the Oregon Zoo, another to the airport, sometimes the beach, often the Portland Art Museum. That was my favorite. Though my mother would always ask — regardless of where we were — “What do you see?” my favorite place to look was the art museums. I would wander the long halls and exhibits, watching people observe the paintings and watch the paintings reflect the people. I grew up understanding line, color, form and composition as my literal mother tongue.


I became fluent in the unique language of beauty as my mother would stop to explore the specific symbolism of a work or as I would ask about a strange color I noticed. Those hours were more sacred to me than any religious service I had attended; under the museum’s cathedral ceilings I found my own holy place. Whereas most of my friends were learning the difference between mortal and venial sins, I was learning the distinction between impressionism and pointillism. When they took their first communion, I took my first digital x-ray of an underpainting; we all learned that the most beautiful works still account for mistakes in the process of becoming.


My point is this: I grew up knowing that the most important thing in the world was learning how to see beauty. Though my mother was the painter, my grandmother taught me the hues of flowers, how to name and cultivate even the most delicate blooms. My aunts -- one a dairy farmer, the other a model -- collected fabrics simultaneously, creating the warmest quilts made from the most brilliant designs, worlds away from one another.


There is no beauty in the world that my family does not revere, no beauty that does not make my family pause and be thankful for the world we live in. My cousin, the most practical and hard-headed man you are ever likely to meet, still stops every morning on his way to the milking parlor to watch the illuminated mist fall from mountains to fields, a wave of gray to misty gold falling on wide, quiet green. Perhaps this is the reason we each hate the darkness in the world, the ugliness each of us has been exposed to -- how can we be beautiful, with such ugliness present?


But I often think of those underpaintings I once x-rayed, the way shadows are laid down before the light and color. The way the darkness gives the light depth and structure, something to work against. Though my family may disagree, this is not different from religion. Beauty in Christianity is found    in the communal discernment of hope,  of relationship, and of resurrection, true, but that beauty is heightened because these are created in the midst of ugliness and suffering. The Incarnation that we will celebrate this Christmas is so radical precisely because it teaches us that there is nothing so secular that it is not sacred, nothing so    dark that light cannot permeate it. All creation is dignified, sanctified, and beautified by the fact that God chose to become a part of all creation. So when we look, there is nothing created that is not worth our sight, our consideration, our hope. Beauty reminds us to look at the world with the expectation that God is present within it: with people who look like you, with people who look like the neighbors, with the drought-ridden land and even the dirty dishes.


We often consider Advent a time of waiting and preparation solely for Christmas – a busy but ultimately unexciting time. But we often forget the moments of sharply beautiful scenes – the bright, unwavering light of the Advent candles; the cream and blue vestments, the music that gives voice to our weariness and longing for peace and justice. But more than any of these, I think of the conspiracy of grace that Adventide reveals for us: the gossamer hope of God choosing to live, connect, and love all creation as a human being, and all for our sake.


This Advent, I pray we may cultivate a keener sight, one that can distinguish the beautiful riot of God’s presence even in the broken and lonely parts of our lives, so that we hold to the hope that – no matter how desperate or disastrous things are – God was, is, and will be with us.  

December 1 , 2022  A Reflection from Fr. Dan Burner

When I last had a garden to work in, almost twenty years ago in Tucson, I loved the bougainvillea that grew on the walls. Each year the cycle of the life of those vines brought hope to me. The beauty of the red blossoms against the green leaves and the stucco brown walls made the spring and even late into the fall a colorful experience to sit and listen to the Spanish three-tier fountain trickle. I remember reading the passage of Isaiah 11 during Advent one of those years and thinking about how I would carefully wait until the last freeze and then trim the branches back, only to watch them bud and bring new life and beauty to the walls of my garden.


The branch that grows on the stump of Jesse is David, the third king of the United Kingdom of Israel. Samuel anointed Saul to be the first King and later the shepherd boy David, son of Jesse, slew Goliath in battle and came to the attention of Saul who favored him. After the death of Saul and his son, David conquered the city of Jerusalem and brought the tabernacle there. He unified the tribes of Israel and his son, Solomon, built the first temple to house the tabernacle.


Jesse was not of royal birth. He was not a leader. His only status was to be the father of the King that brought the Tribes of Israel to Jerusalem. He was in effect a stump. Yet out of that stump came a great King. This is not to say he was perfect; he was not. But David gathered the people around the word of God.


Isaiah tells us that because this branch from Jesse fears the Lord, or more correctly, loves God; that he will bring righteousness (deep relationship) and equity to the earth. Many things will happen like wolves and lambs, leopards and kids, and calves and lions dwelling in harmony; that are hard to explain but in which we can see God’s love for all creation. This great hope for the future of humanity reminds me of the joy of tending the bougainvillea in my garden. I pray that we may all tend the renewal of life that comes from following the example of Jesus.