Saturday, June 27, 2009


[Thunder.] "Alas, the storm is come again! My best way is to creep under his gaberdine; there is no other shelter hereabout: misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows. I will here shroud till the dregs of the storm be past."

Shakespeare. The Tempest. Act 2 scene 2.

Photographs taken at 7.10 pm on Friday, June 26th 2009 from the rear deck, five minutes before the first hail and rain.

Friday, June 26, 2009

FOR HEYWARD. June 26th, 2009

Shortly before my arrival in this parish the (then) Senior Warden thoughtfully sent me a copy of the parish directory. Of course it was just a sea of names to me in those days, but glancing through the pages my eyes spotted a certain entry:

The Honorable Heyward Isham.

Coming from the “Old World” I immediately assumed that within my congregation I would have the pleasure of meeting with an aristocrat – the son of a viscount, baron or earl. How deep was my ignorance of American titles and structures? Very deep indeed, for I had not a clue that I would be meeting a retired US Ambassador!

As a result of my poverty of knowledge I was thus educated, and in my meeting Heyward Isham I was then enriched.

I don’t think that it is an understatement to say that time spent with Heyward always contained an element of the spiritual, albeit sometimes cloaked within his own personal narrative, his vast experience and his indefatigable memory. In conversation with me and many others he was always concerned with the spiritual angle, or consequence, as it were.

In the obituary published last Sunday in the Washington Post there is mention of the time when, in 1977, he was challenged by two men and wounded. What the story does not tell is that Heyward later made a purposeful visit to an Episcopal priest to ask if there was any spiritual significance to this event. The priest wisely pointed out that the attack had probably more to do with Heyward’s counter-terrorism appointment than it had to do with the hand of the Almighty!

Now setting levity aside, there was a wonderful, gentle side to Heyward’s spirituality. It went back through many years, and was shaped by many experiences and people. By his worldly travels and diplomatic challenges; by his wife Sheila, whose depth of spirituality is evident, not only in her art, but also in her very presence and conversation; and finally, sadly, by the death of Sandra, their daughter.

No father’s spirit can remain unchanged after such a tragedy. Heyward remained strong, but on occasion we, he and I, would quietly and gently re-visit that dark valley. I was privileged to share in his perennial grief, a grief that has now ended.

Heyward’s personal Christian faith led him to embrace the ways of the Episcopal Church, and the older Anglican traditions. Sheila once shared with me a press report in which Heyward quietly expressed his love of Anglicanism – because it held together the length, breadth and depth of so many expressions of Christianity. It seemed to match his own spiritual journey.

The pilgrim on this spiritual journey was a man who, one minute was reading and implementing intelligence from Washington, Bejing, and Moscow, and the next minute drawing inspiration from metaphysical Anglican authors and poets such as John Donne and George Herbert.

And the result of this spiritual (and physical) journey was that, for many years, we were blessed and privileged to have Heyward in our small community and our parish church of St. Ann.

Of course, just as Sheila grieves, and Ralph and Christopher and all their families grieve, we can grieve, as it seems that that special blessing of Heyward’s presence has been taken away. And it is right that we do, for this giant, gentle man, wise and full of love, is no longer here.

But as Heyward once told me, “Matters of the heart are unaffected by time.”

And he was so right. For he is as much in our hearts now as he was before he died, and his spirit, now journeying on, is inextinguishable.

Within the Christian faith and hope we have read these words from John’s Gospel.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”

We take heart from these words, just as Heyward did, and drew strength also from the words of George Herbert, priest and poet, who will have the final word for now.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

Goodbye, my friend. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


If you can keep your head
When all about you are losing theirs...

("If." Rudyard Kipling 1896)

This is one of those weeks. A short few days in eternity when the death of a most wonderful human being is being almost eclipsed by the funeral activity. (Not the family arrangements, I must stress.) And I'm pretty sure that dear Heyward is annoyed by it all. For despite his rank and responsibility he was never one to like such nonsense. Damn it, he even apologized for his weakened condition when I visited him two days before he died. "Tim, there's really no need, but I am so grateful..." Such humble protest was not there when I laid my hand on his shoulder as he died.

The 'phone has been non-stop, and I would expect nothing else. People, good people, near and far who wish to attend Heyward's funeral and express their grief (I hate the phrase, "pay their respects." So clinical.) It's the peripheral people who can be irritating.

It is a pleasant evening, given the weather of late, and I have set up a "parish command center" on the rear deck, with all manner of communications available, short of a direct link to NASA. (Although come to think of it, what does that cable do?) I've been fielding calls and sendings texts and emails. Now it is wonderfully quiet for the moment. In all of this activity I am deeply aware that a great deal else is going on, there are other people I would rather be with, and that I must not forget that.

If I were to choose a metaphor for myself this week it would be the swan. The swan glides on the water, seemingly effortlessly, but under the surface the legs are paddling like crazy!

I must try to be a good swan, and you know what, I won't let Rudyard Kipling down!


Monday, June 22, 2009


This column has been quiet of late, but hopefully will pick up again soon. At the moment I am reminded of part of the old Breton fisherman's prayer:

"Lord, your sea is so great and my boat is so small ..."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Guantamamo Bay. Now there's a place that has had the spotlight of the world's press and public opinion turned upon its beaches and harbour since 2002. Hardly a day passes without comment end editorial, all voicing and debating the pros and cons of "closing Guantanamo." They know what they mean by using that geographical name (at least I hope they do), but I'm willing to bet my bottom dollar that most members of the reading, listening, watching public do not.

You see, Guantanamo has become synonymous in the vox populi with the prison camp established in 2002, essentially to house suspected terrorists and those accused of being (and here's a pretty thing) "enemy combatants."

And I would like to restore the name and image of Guantanamo, without passing political or legal comment upon the internment facility. Because Guantanamo is more, so much more than that. It is a beautiful place, and strategic within US, British and NATO naval operations.

Guantanamo, properly called Guantanamo Bay (and briefly Cumberland Bay, by the British) is the largest harbour in southern Cuba, and was ceded to the United States of America by the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The signatories were Tomes Palma, first president of Cuba, and Theodore "Teddy" (but never to his family or friends!) Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth president of the United States. To quote from the Treaty:

"The Republic of Cuba hereby leases to the United States, for the time required for the purposes of coaling and naval stations, the following description of areas of land and water situated in the Island of Cuba..." And so on. It was a permanent lease.

Currently, and I do not believe that I am spilling secrets here, the base has two primary functions. It provides the Unites States Navy and Coastguard with what is termed a "forward projection platform" into the Caribbean and western Atlantic, and, with strong and constant Royal Navy frigate support, Guantanamo provide a coordinating command centre for anti drug smuggling operations ("interdictions") in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

It is a most beautiful place. With its mangroves, cacti and incredible list of natural bird and fish species, it falls under the category of "paradise." What is encouraging is the amount of money, effort and energy the US Navy put into keeping it that way.

My first visit to GITMO (as it is referred to in the military) was in 1992, when HMS ACTIVE pulled in for rest and recreation, and propeller repairs. To this day I have four distinct memories of the place: (1) The spectacular scenic location. (2) The excellent facilities for personnel on the base. (3) The gracious hospitality of the US Navy in welcoming me and "taking me in." And (4) the reluctance of the Base Chaplain to greet me and meet with me. Apparently he had "problems of his own making," and was shortly to be relieved. So I had the enormous privilege of celebrating the Naval Base "Anglican" Eucharist one Sunday. And many came.

In my five days in this part of paradise I learned many things: That water-skiing was not my natural gift; that bowling was fun, but only after a beer or three; and that actually it is extremely difficult to make a USN officer relax. (And it normally involved alcohol!)

One warm GITMO afternoon, an unholy trinity of HMS ACTIVE's executive staff (The Captain, the XO and myself) were the guests of the Base Senior Medical Officer. (A delightful chap, whose wife was doing something in Wisconsin, if my memory serves, and who had a certain look for his senior nurse, Cheryl. But come to think of it, so did all of us!) Two hours shallow scuba diving, and then lunch.

The burgers were served. There were three containers on the table: Yellow (mustard), red (ketchup) and one green. I took a small squirt from each one and hungrily bit into my lunch. The Captain, who had been delayed, was about to do the same thing when our host, the doctor, put his hand on his arm and said, "Sir! The green bottle is the bug repellent!"

I simply chewed in silence.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


We have a new family in our neighborhood. Driving along Town Line Road this evening I had to slow and stop for two adult wild turkeys, who stood on guard at the side of the road as one, two, three, no ... ten chicks hopped across the road. Each no bigger than two fists, they skipped and flew to join their parents. This new rafter will swell the number of wild turkeys in Wainscott, all protected for the moment. From humans that is. One didn't make it this morning.

After mass I came home to find one in the pool. Newly killed, probably by a hawk who dropped it in the wrong place. Now buried under the young ash trees. No real sadness, because as we are poetically reminded:

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law --
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Saturday, June 13, 2009


The rain has passed, but left the air very muggy. It's refreshing to see blue sky again. I haven't checked the forecast for tomorrow - my WiFi is down and I'm simply too lazy to go inside to the main computer.

Grackles are feeding in one corner, where the new ash saplings are growing. An Eastern Towhee sings somewhere at the side of the house. There is a small, yappy dog in the garden of the house behind, getting terribly noisy and excited about four labradors walking within mere feet, although the other side of a fence. Yet they treat him with disinterest, even distain.

I can still hear highway traffic, weekenders arriving, thankfully moving at last. When I drove home at 4.30 it was backed up for more than a mile from the Wainscott traffic lights. All those people, rushed and impatient to slow down and relax. It won't work! And the airport is busy this evening... and my next door neighbor is playing Rod Stewart ... and the sirens. Ah, the sad sirens.

The first sermon is written, and I will leave thinking about the funeral homily until tomorrow. Time to mull over those things that are at the front of my mind: An elderly friend whose health is worrying; a mound of pastoral detail; a bride's mother; a very tense and painful birthday gathering this evening; the complexities of next week's calendar, and the sheer joy of baptizing a baby girl this Sunday morning. Not to mention the amazing privilege of simply being here. For such is my wonderful lot, and I wouldn't change it for anything. Not even for all the tea in China!

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Often the pastoral care of, and concern for, other clergy takes me out of my immediate surroundings, and today was one of those days. It was made even more special because lunch was involved, and my introduction to a marvelous place called the Triangle Pub. Now this robust and diverse establishment nestles in the demilitarized zone between the Sunrise Highway and Eastport, and is presumably so-called because it sits on a complicated, triangular intersection off Old County Road. An unassuming exterior clearly bypassed by architects, designers and painters, but enthusiastically patronized by both "profession" and "trade." In the parking lot Mercedes mixed with Ford pick-ups, with a few Audi and Lexus. One Rolls Royce, and two John Deere tractors. On entering I discovered a friendly sports bar with restaurant attached. The menu? An all-American selection. Simple and attractive. Cheap in price, but not in quality. The waitress? Straight out of "central casting" but with a razor-sharp humor. (Well, she had worked there for over twenty years, so her philosophy on life and her delivery of both food and comment had been honed over countless customers and covers.) Yet I simply had to record some of our exchanges.

Waitress: What can I get you to drink?
Me: I'll go for an iced tea.
Waitress: I've got a better idea. I'll go for the iced tea, and you drink it.

Waitress (to my colleague): Here's some extra napkins. The burger juices will run down to your elbows, and dry cleaning is too freaking expensive!

Me: Great table!
Waitress: So you like the window seats? I'd like a window seat. I haven't sat down in this place in twenty years!

Waitress (to my colleague): So - it looks like your beer glass has developed a leak!
Me: No way! It's hot in here. It's evaporation!
Waitress: Too funny. May I use that line?

And the best of all, close to the end of the meal...

Waitress: So, d'ya want coffee?
Me: Yes, I think so. What kind of coffee do you offer?
Waitress: We do regular and we do de-caff. This isn't the goddamn Hamptons, you know!!!

And she was so right, and the food was excellent. And her tip was generous!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I am enjoying driving the Audi V6. It’s sleek, fast, maneuverable and comfortable, and in fact a wonderful piece of German technology. Vorsprung Durch Technik indeed. In fact I suspect that, as the car is so solidly built, its ancestors must have been super-charged Panzer tanks. I can imagine them hurtling in style across France, driving all before them, and stopping at the occasional rural cafĂ© to recharge the coffee flasks.

But this car is different in my experience, because this car has navigation. I have never had navigation before, and never felt the need for it. Until now my navigating has been a good sense of direction, a well-thumbed road atlas, and one eye on the sun (the other hopefully on the road ahead.) But yesterday, having learned how to work and program this onboard computer, I tested it for the first time. A simple route.

On moving forward the first thing I heard was a voice telling me to “Follow the directions given,” and then “Follow the road ahead.” A female voice, not unpleasant, but with no particular accent. Perhaps I had expected an authoritative fraulein to tell me where to go, or was that just wishful thinking? Then, “Prepare to take a left in three hundred yards,” followed by, “Take a left now!” It was then that I thought I detected a slight note of superiority in that voice, as if to assert that she knew the way and I didn’t. And I began to wonder, and even anticipate her mood.

Of course the biggest test of her navigation and my nerves was deliberately disobeying her instructions, and turning the wrong way – which I did in Bridgehampton. Silence. Not a word, but glancing at the screen I saw that the route was being reset. Then the voice. “Prepare to take a right.” Was there a hint of exasperation? An echo of my preparatory school English teacher who would sigh before telling me, “Lewis, you may now stop staring out of the window and open your book.”

When we reached home there was a triumphant, “You have now reached your destination!” But to my ear it was slightly sardonic in tone, trumpeting the fact that she had done it despite my driving efforts. I reached to switch off the screen and a message appeared: It is dangerous to use navigation while driving. Yes.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The Day of Pentecost!

A significant day in the Church’s season and calendar. A red letter day in the true sense of the word, yet a frustrating morning when one of the dogs stole my red socks which I was intending to wear. I know which one - but he's saying nothing.

Remember that Pentecost is not a name but a number – a Greek word meaning fifty days. The word is common to both the Christian and the Jewish faiths.

The Jewish Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover, commemorates the giving of the Law, 50 days after the Israelites' liberation from Egypt. On that day God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, establishing the Covenant with the People of God. Pentecost also became a celebration of the spring wheat harvest in ancient Israel.

The Christian Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter, and the empowerment of those early disciples to live out the New Commandment: Love one another. And many call Pentecost the "Birthday" of the Christian Church.

There is nothing wrong with the phrase “birthday of the Church,” but we must be wary of understanding Pentecost in a way that is too structured and institutional. Like any birthday, we must, first and foremost, treat it as a celebration.

Pentecost is a very colorful celebration – as not only are the stories and biblical narratives full of rich symbolism and metaphor – most of which is Old Testament in origin, but also the feast has given rise to many traditional and ceremonies down the ages.

In medieval times holes were opened up in the ceilings of churches to symbolize openness to God. Doves were released through the holes during the Eucharist. Think of the mess!

In the Baltic state of Lithuania on the eve of Pentecost, village girls made wreaths of flowers and greenery and young men cut branches from birch trees, which they placed around doors, gates, inside porches and in living rooms.

Why birch trees? Because it was believed that the souls of the dead, while visiting homes on Pentecost, rested on birch branches. And so farmers also decorated their cows with birch wreaths, to keep them calm and together, and produce good milk.

In rural England and Wales, Pentecost, known still by the Old English name of Whitsun, White Sunday, remains an important feast of the year – celebrated with much music, dancing eating and drinking. It was, and is traditional to brew a Whitsun ale especially for the celebrations.

In Hawaii, Pentecost is a time of hospitality. Today in those islands churches are serving meals to all who come to worship.

There are hundreds of similar examples of tradition – and why not. If it is a birthday then it ought to be celebrated in style!

It’s all great fun – as Christian faith and tradition ought to be on a festival day. It almost seems a shame to introduce a little piece of theology. It’s a bit like being at a party and enjoying sumptuous food and excellent company when the host says – “Stop. We really ought to be more serious."

The Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers is represented by the sound of a rushing wind and by tongues of fire. There is nothing new here – in fact this is Old Testament tradition being re-written. These symbols are none other than graphic ways of describing the very presence of God.

That is a wonderful way of understanding the beginnings of the Church – that among those early faithful, God was present.

Now strip away the biblical symbols and the ways in which they are interpreted by various groups, and the bottom line of Pentecost is that it marks the beginning of a journey.

The journey of faith that the Church still walks. That’s you and me, for it is our journey.

It is a journey on which we are promised constant company and strength. That is the continuing presence of God along the way.

Each year at Pentecost we continue to celebrate the journey we walk, the generations that have walked before us, and those who will come after us. All in the presence of God – the strength of the Holy Spirit.

One of my favorite images of God’s Holy Spirit comes from the early medieval Celtic Church. Rather than the Spirit being portrayed as a dove, which is rather tame and inoffensive – Celtic Christians chose the wild goose as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. A wild goose is a noisy, bothersome bird. Untamable. Unpredictable. And messy!

Who can say what the Spirit will say to us, and who can say where it will lead us?

Remember - the Christian life is full of surprises!