Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.


The Rev. Ted Howden was a chaplain in the 200th army division that was captured in the Philippines and forced to march “some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando. The men were divided into groups of approximately 100, and what became known as the Bataan Death March typically took each group around five days to complete. The exact figures are unknown, but it is believed that thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and bayoneted those too weak to walk.”1 “Chappy,” as he was known, did his best to attend to the spiritual needs of men in extreme distress. In the end he gave up his own rations to others who he believed needed them more, causing his own demise. He died on December 11th, 1942, was buried in a POW cemetery in the Philippines. After the war his remains were moved to a cemetery in Albuquerque, NM. The Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande has petitioned the National Episcopal Church to put him on our liturgical calendar for December 11th.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.2


2John 15:13 (NIV)


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Church, Mariachis and Football

Yesterday we celebrated a Mariachi Mass and told the story of Juan Diego and Guadalupe. Afterwards we had posole, tacos, Mexican rice and capirutada. We had the mariachi band from the High School in a neighboring town, and they came in force—30 young men and women (well, some were children—one guitarrón player was 7, and hardly bigger than his instrument!) all dressed in blue and silver, playing and singing, it was fantastic. It set my wife and I to talking about the nature of organized religion today. So many are turning away from it, claiming it is irrelevant at best, toxic to society at worst. Many of these people have had experiences to back up their conclusions. Yet we had a bunch of folks in Church yesterday.

Mariachi for young people in this neck of the woods is a bit like football. Kids who get into football don’t tend to be the kids that get into trouble. They have a place and a purpose that focuses their energies in positive directions. I could see that this mariachi band served the same purpose for these kids. They were not the types to be on the football team, but here they could also have a place and a purpose and be cool. I mentioned this to the director and he knew exactly what I was talking about. Having them sing for us yesterday was more than just entertainment and music for our worship. It was a value-adding function in the lives of young people. How relevant is that?

It’s no longer socially “cool” to be a church-goer, and you probably won’t get a job or increased business through your connections at church. Organized religion can no longer rely on past laurels, for we have exhausted our social capital. Until we truly serve the world in God’s name, making our contribution to making the world a better place for the future rather than the past, we will be irrelevant at best, toxic at worst.

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Yesterday I was facing a disappointment about which nothing could be done. Several weeks back I had had to make a decision, and it seemed that there was no way to have made a right decision. I did what I thought was best at the time, which is, of course, as much as we can ever do, but it was still disappointing. My lovely wife sent me a link to a song on Youtube that spoke directly to where I was. She is good at building a nurturing nest in which her loved ones can find life and hope. I tell you, I fell in love with that woman all over again.

Where would I be without such a place? Where would any of us be? Life would be hardly human without relationships that mutually build and sustain one another. We would be reduced to what Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters—the triumphant noise of hell that silences all other sound by its sheer force.

There are those in the world whose life is precisely that noise, who have no nest of nurturing human relationships, and for whom love has been gutted down to usefulness. Herein is the brokenness of the world, the suffering of the Buddhist, sin of the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim, the disharmony of the Navajo, and negative karma of the Hindu. But herein is also the glimmer of hope, for if we know these things to be what is wrong with the world then our hearts yearn for something else. All but those at the very top want to change the noise; no one in love wants to walk away from it. We know what we need.

Getting there, however, requires that we begin now to live in love, and it seems so fragile in the face of the noise. That is the noise’s lie, however, for in the long run love is infinitely stronger and more enduring, precisely because no one really wants to walk away from it.

Teilhard de Chardin said, “The physical structure of the universe is love.”1

1Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Human Energy (Kindle Location 1116).

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Today is “Quito Day” in Ecuador where I was born and raised. On this day in 1534 Sebastián de Benalcázar declared the founding of the Spanish city of San Francisco de Quito. The word, “quito,” however, is a variation on “quitu,” the people whose archeological remains date them from the time of Christ. A Spanish chronicler claims that in 980 CE the Cara people overran the Quitu and ruled quite a large part of central Ecuador from the location of Quito. Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth Inca emperor, began conquest of Ecuador in 1463. In 1480 Tupac Inca, his son, captured the city. In 1530 the empire fell into a disastrous civil war between Tupac Inca’s two sons, Huayna Capac and Huascar, with Quito under the command of the former’s general, Rumiñahui. Into the midst of this civil war the Spanish arrived. In four short years Benalcázar had made it a Spanish city. Quito, as a place of human habitation, rivals many of the great capitals of Europe in age and history.

We usually look back only as far as the last conquest. Ecuador won its independence from Spain in 1822. The US won its independence from England in 1776, so we say that Ecuador is younger than the US. We forget that there were 150 years of colonial life in the US and almost 300 in Ecuador. And we forget that prior to the colonies peoples lived and moved and had their being in these places for millenia before. Even in my current state of residence, Santa Fe, the oldest capital city in the US, was built over the pueblo of the Tanoan people who had lived there for millenia before. (A small European population was already living there when the Jamestown Colony was founded in present day Virginia.) We look back to the founding of “our” world and hold it to be “the beginning,” yet each beginning is only the ending of a previous world, that also had its “beginning.”

There are really only a few human stories, with a thousand variations.

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Slowing Down

Yesterday my computer bugged me all day wanting to do some kind of cataclysmic update. I put it off and put it off, thinking that as I walked out the door I would give it permission to reorganize its innards however it wanted to, and take as long as it needed. Well, I forgot to hit the magic key, and I got back this morning to find out it still wanted to play with itself for a while. Absentmindedly, I hit Restart Now, and watched as it occupied itself in updates with painfully slow progress reports. I sat down to read a book instead.

The book I picked up was given to me by someone in the Church who said I could go through it in 20 minutes. Doing a doctorate degree, I have learned to read fast. As I got into it I knew that, yes, I could get the gist of the book in 20 minutes. In fact, the gist of the book was clear in the first two minutes of reading—but the gist was the problem. The gist of the book is precisely that we need to slow down long enough no notice one another. It’s not really a book you can read in 20 minutes and really read it.

The Turquoise Table, by Kirstin Schnell (Thomas Nelson, 2017) is the story of an alpha female who is drawn to figure out a way to lay down her alpha lifestyle in order to find ways to build community in her community. It began with a trip to France in High School in which she was impressed with the food culture that is French. Eating a meal was not a way to keep body and soul together, but a moment, an event in the life of the family that was of vital importance to everyone. Dinners that lasted well into the evening were common, and they became the place where relationships were developed and maintained, and her command of the French language was stretched. She loved it.

Life went on. She graduated High School and College, married and started a family. In the rush for breakfast before school one morning she came to a crisis. Somehow, she had to regain the centeredness of community in Austin, TX. She eventually did with a turquoise table. She carved out a way to make space to actually see neighbors, to visit with them and to get to know them. Others have followed her lead.

So, this morning my computer was a turquoise table. Forcing me to slow down, it gave me opportunity to get my feet more solidly under me, and a place from which to relate to those around me and not just a screen.

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The Season

The Season is upon us. We talk about meteorological seasons, summer, winter, fall and spring. We talk about seasons in our lives. This, however, is another kind of season. The world calls it Christmas. The church calls it Advent. Either way, the whole mood of the world shifts during these days. Some merchants make the lion’s share of their profits during The Season. Some hunker down and wait for The Season to pass. The intensity of everything gets notched up.

Yesterday we celebrated an Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols. The choir processed around the Nave of the Church singing, we read nine different portions of Scripture and sang Advent songs, but familiar and obscure. There was no sermon. The liturgy itself was the sermon. As it was, we still went to almost two hours and everyone had fun! The liturgy did a magnificent job of transcending thoughts and reaching deeper, into emotion and intuition. The Season reminds us that we live in more than our heads.

The question becomes, in this Season of peace and good will, what do we do with the raised intensity of emotions that seem to run crosswise to such lofty ideals? Henry Wadworth Longellow wrote a poem about the Civil War published in 1865, most of which became a familiar Christmas Carol. Two verses go as follows:

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


The difficult emotions we have are not the final word of The Season. They will pass, if we just take the time to look at their real source and then beyond them. The Season, in a hundred different ways, reminds us that God is not dead, but radically present.

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It didn’t take me long to scroll through 70 pictures of animals that promised to “make my day.” The one that takes the cake was the little alligator in a pink doggie vest and a leash. Yes, they were entertaining. The animals’ poses and actions are caricatures of human poses and actions, tempting us to see in them a mirror of ourselves. If I have learned my rudimentary psychology correctly, this is one of the essential components of empathy—to be able to recognize ourselves somehow in someone or something else. When we see ourselves in other people it triggers similar feelings, and invites us to step into a space of common humanity between us where on a deep level we share life itself. Perhaps this is something essential to love.

When we see ourselves in other animals it triggers very human feelings, that can then be held up over against the animals themselves, and we get a clearer view of ourselves. What the animals themselves are actually feeling is another discussion. The common ground is meaningful action on each one’s part. The meanings may be very different, but the forms they take are shared. This common ground is ground enough to begin to build a sense of the cosmos, and the deep life all living things share. The idea comes full circle. When we recognize that the same action may actually mean different things even in humans, we begin to scribe between us a place of respect, where each can be who they are, and stand in recognition of who the other is.

Love and respect, wisdom and compassion—I have come to believe that these are the two essential divine virtues of the universe.

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