so small – what I learned at Mont Saint-Michel


During our northern-France pilgrimage this summer, we went to Mont Saint-Michel.  I’d been maybe 15 years ago, but I experienced it very differently this time, of course.  It’s the most dramatic approach of anywhere I’ve ever been.  First, it’s a little spire in the distance–literally pointing toward heaven, directing all those who see and approach to focus their attention on God.  IMG_2303

It was cloudy, windy, and a bit rainy as we walked the pilgrim’s way toward the Mont (by afternoon, at the top of the post, it’d cleared up beautifully).  When you think you’re almost there, you aren’t–as you pass the dam (above) you’re actually only getting close to the pedestrian-only/official-buses-only section; the pavement ends and those on foot continue on real earth (it was sort of lovely and medieval).


Then you finally arrive, and crane your neck.  The main tower points like a finger toward the sky, with the smaller spires of the main chapel’s gothic apse joining in, beckoning your attention toward the vast expanse of sky symbolizing the vastness and the glory of God.






Just below the highest tower (below) much of it is blocked from view–you can see its fullness more clearly from afar.  In the midst of life, often it’s more difficult to contemplate the whole thing; a step back, contemplation, slowness, helps us humans, limited as we are, to take in the greatness of God and of life.


The upper main chapel is extraordinary, as are the rooms in which monks have lived, eaten, prayed, studied, and celebrated for centuries; this time, though, I was deeply affected by the Chapel of St. Martin, built almost exactly a thousand (1000!) years ago.  The automated guide told me, almost apologetically, that it hadn’t been touched much in the intervening millennium.  In classic, understated Romanesque style, this quiet, sparse, dark little room was my favorite moment of the whole day.


Can you imagine praying where God-seekers have been soaking the walls with prayers for a thousand years?  As far as we are removed for those who built this holy place for prayer and worship to the glory of God, they themselves were removed from Jesus’ time in Galilee.  When I realized that as I sat at the back of this chapel, I started to understand how small I am in the course of history and in the life of the church.

Though our lives matter–the prayers we offer and the virtues we cultivate–each one of us is tiny, miniscule, perhaps even so small as to be statistically irrelevant, in comparison to the Church (all people who have sought after God throughout time and space).  Our significance comes from being part of something much larger than ourselves, a millenia-long heritage.  Being so small is a comfort to me, though; I am not such a linchpin myself that my shoulders need bend and break under the weight.  The little pieces each of us contribute are offerings to this great God of centuries and space.

Fear not!  As pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said recently, “The Church of Jesus Christ has survived papal corruption, the crusades, sectarianism, and clown ministry. It will survive us too.”

how to make: a French tomato pie

Tomato pies are ubiquitous here in South Carolina, but what should I fall in love with in Rouen, except a French version of the Southern staple?

french tomato pie

Longing for France, as I do, I made up my own version of the dish: more zucchini, less aubergine (eggplant)–appropriate for August in the South in so many ways.

2 zucchinis, chopped

1 onion, chopped

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning, divided

1 Tablespoon Parsley

4 oz fresh goat cheese

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs

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Heat oven to 375 degrees, mix together breadcrumbs & 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning.  Combine vegetables, crushed tomatoes and the rest of the seasonings in a baking dish.

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Drop goat cheese on top of veggie mixture, then add breadcrumbs on top.



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Bake for 35 minutes or so, until bubbly, remove from oven and let cool till just warm–the filling will firm up some, and the flavors will meld.

inspired by lunch special at Dame Cakes, Rouen, France.

Look up, Look out!

In preparation for my trip to France, my dad suggested we spring for an international plan–just in case we really needed to make a call or use our phones while we were abroad–it’d be better to pay a little up front instead of footing the bill if we needed the service but hadn’t paid for it beforehand.

I didn’t listen to him.

Thankfully–as you can safely assume from my recent glowing updates about my trip–we didn’t encounter any emergency that required use of our cellphones as phones (though you’ve already seen much evidence of our use of our cellphones as cameras!).  I learned something important from not having my phone’s “smart” capability accessible most of the time, though–I learned to look up.

Sitting with my husband at lunch, waiting for the food to arrive, walking down city streets, waiting in line at a museum or (yet another!) church–I had no excuse not to look up, to look out at the people passing on the street, to look at the architecture, to look at the sky.  All this looking at other things not only helped me to keep my mind attentive to what was in front of me–which was no small change!–but it also kept me from looking down, looking at myself–navel gazing.

When we look down at our phones, we’re not only missing the world around us, but we’re teaching ourselves to do something strange with our bodies.  Our necks are cranked down–not the way we’re made–and our bodies are hunched over, literally curling in ourselves.  What kind of patterns are we teaching our minds and hearts through our bodies if we’re curved in on ourselves all the time?  We’re not just missing the world around us, but we’re becoming the only thing that we see–and it’s not a particularly attractive angle at that.

When we hold our bodies so that our eyes and faces are looking out and up, do you know what happens to our hearts?  Our hearts are opened, as our backs are held up straight–as if our very souls are ready to shine and share with others.  If we look down, it’s not only ourselves who are missing something; everyone else around you can’t see you and your beautiful heart–we’re robbing ourselves, and others, of the great beauty that all the world possesses.

I got into this work (being a priest) because there’s nothing I love more than seeing God at work in people’s lives.  Sometimes I lose sight of that love, and the work gets to be onerous.  In France, I was made to look at the beauty of people, of buildings, and of nature all the time.  It helped me remember that there is beauty everywhere, all the time.  We need only to look for it–and looking out and up is one of the best ways.

(super short approximation of sermon delivered 6 July, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.  Original version had a lot more about Gothic architecture in it; see another entry soon…)