In June, Dr. Frederick Franck passed his 97th birthday, or as he would phrase it, he d just begun his 98th year and a few days later, he died. The celebration of birth, life and death separated by a few days a blip on the cosmic screen.
Who was this man, Frederick Franck, of whom you may never have heard, and whom I never had the good fortune to meet, though he was my spiritual mentor and guide for more than twenty-five years?
He was born in Europe, trained as a physician, immigrated to the United States from war-torn Europe, and became an artist, author, and theologian though he might never have used those words to describe himself. He lived his life on a pilgrimage of discovery of what it is to be human.
I first encountered Dr. Franck in the early 1980 s when I was teaching liturgics at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, and searching for a text book for my course. In a small Georgetown bookstore called Yes!, I came across his book, Art as a Way, which he described as his hope that it would & renew the vision of those, who misled by our consumer society, have come to see the arts as mere ornamentation of life as a luxury, estranged from our human destiny, or as that self-expression that is so often little more than self-indulgence& . His book is filled with his drawings and his thoughts on life written by hand, and it became my textbook for fifteen years as required reading for the more than two thousand future priests that I taught during that time.
Dr. Franck touched my soul in the early pages of the book when he wrote, To be in touch with the marrow of existence is actually& all that human living is about. That s what I wanted future clergy to understand about their celebrating and preaching, and for them not to read the Book of Common Prayer as though it were the phone book. But the words that convinced me that I had found THE textbook, were these words that have become my favorite quote from all of the books I ve ever read:
That I speak here of art as a way, gives away that I see the way of the artist as a kind of pilgrimage. When you go on a pilgrimage, you set out from where you happen to be and start walking toward a place of great sanctity in the hope of returning from it renewed, enriched, and sanctified.
Substitute the word Eucharist for the word art and you have the essence of my teaching.
Is that not what we all hope will happen on Sunday morning as we set out from home to St. James ? Is that not what Jarius sought as he left home in search of Jesus not for himself but for his daughter who was ill to the point of death that she would be renewed, enriched, and sanctified i.e. would live?
Jarius, a leader of the synagogue, an important man in his community, knew of a man named Jesus, a man not caught up in a society of power, consumerism, or conflict, but one who was in touch with a reality so Real (with a capital R), that he could heal that which was broken and bring life into a place of death. Against all advice, he set forth on his journey.
Today s lectionary reading omits the portion of the story that seems like an interruption, but it is crucial to the understanding of the whole text. Not only is Jarius on a pilgrimage, but so too is a poor and nameless widow who has hemorrhaged for twelve years, marking her as an untouchable.
Jarius and the woman represent the opposite ends of the social spectrum, both of whom want the same gift to be touched by Jesus healing power. When we include this omitted portion of the text, we understand that Jesus generosity is inclusive of all and not exclusively given to the rich or important personage.
The woman knew that if she but touched Jesus robe, she d be healed; and Jarius knew that if Jesus touched his daughter, she would live. Such a knowing is not an intellectual concept; it is a profound occurrence in the depths of one s soul that makes all rationality nonsense. It is the feeling I have when I look at a picture of outer space in all of its colorful and glorious splendor, understand nothing of what I see, and yet know its truth to be beyond my capacity to put into words. I know that what I have seen is a reality that powerfully expresses the ground of all being i.e., the love of God and eternal life in the face of seemingly endless emptiness. Such a picture can be glimpsed, albeit all too briefly, in the movie An Inconvenient Truth.
Jarius and the nameless woman saw that ground of being, that truth, in Jesus, and recognized it as the power to heal, to make the broken whole. Is that not the same pilgrimage as our journey of faith? Faith and religion are two words our culture uses interchangeably, but I d like to say a word to differentiate each.
The word religion comes from the Latin, religare, which means to bind together, to be made whole. The woman lived all those twelve years hemorrhaging as an unclean person, an untouchable; healed, she is not only free of her malady but she is restored to her community; she belongs again and can move about freely in the company of her family, friends, and neighbors. Jarius, fearful of a broken family with the certain death of his precious daughter, has the wholeness of his life and family restored, as well as the promise restored of future generations. Religion in this context is an acti0on verb and not an institution or set of beliefs.
Jarius and the woman are not the only ones who remind us this day of God s intention for religare and wholeness for all of creation. The lesson from Deuteronomy proclaims to God s people that it is our responsibility to live towards others with the same generosity that God gives to all. In remembering the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year as a sacred time a time of prayer, peace, and celebration and also, a time of lifting the burdens of the poor, of forgiving debts, and providing a fresh start, a new beginning/ a new creation.
There are two phrases that run through all of Scripture:
Be not afraid.
Behold, I make all things new.
These two phrases go hand in hand with the concept of religare. Not only does God accomplish a new creation, but we are commanded to do likewise by feeding the hungry, healing the sick, tending the broken-hearted, and forgiving debts these acts restore the broken community and make us all whole.
The second word, faith, in Scripture is equated with saying, Yes! to God. Abraham had faith; he trusted God to lead him into an unknown land without a map. Mary had faith; she trusted God s promise of a child and risked being stoned for having a child out of wedlock. Jarius and the woman had faith and took risks journeying to find God s healing promise fulfilled in Jesus. All said Yes! to that cosmic connection that made us all and that makes us all one.
What we in America are in danger of losing is this cosmic sense of connectedness. We have been so indoctrinated by Madison Avenue ads that preach to the me, myself, and I way of thinking: me first, shop til you drop, bigger is better, the one with the most toys wins, something for nothing, and hit the lottery big time. We spend hours in front of mind-numbing television where we are filled with images of, and political slogans, justifying war and destruction as necessary to the salvation of this nation, and we are blasted with constant noise and chatter wherever we go by cell phones, musak, and loud car radios. Violence in thought, word and deed has become an American way of life.
Today s lessons, and Dr. Franck s life and teaching, call us to a more cosmic appreciation of our being. To live as one who is on a pilgrimage, seeking sanctification, renewal, spiritual enrichment, and wholeness is to engage the cosmic realm. When we bind up that which is broken, we come into the greater wholeness of community, not just that of self; and community leads us to understanding the oneness of all creation of our place in the larger cosmos, the ground of all being.
To borrow a phrase from today s collect, Jesus is presented in today s Gospel as the cornerstone that enables us to be in touch with, and to know, our connection to that cosmic wholeness, i.e. the love of God at work in making all things new. That is the source of our birth, the strength of our living, the meaning of our being human, and the hope of our dying.
If you are ever near Warrick, New York on a weekend from may through October, I encourage you to go to Dr. Franck s home, Paccem in Terris, Peace on Earth. It is a sculpture garden, a museum, a concert hall, and much more a place of sanctity and of wholeness. It is his life s work and mission, and now his resting place. Or, if you are in New York City, you may seek out his work in the Museum of Modern Art.
Never think that one life can t make a difference in this broken world. Jarius knew his daughter s life was precious, the unnamed woman believed there was life beyond her confinement, and Dr. Franck knew that everyone of us has the capacity to say Yes! to celebrating life, to gathering the broken into wholeness, an to make all things new. I d like to end with the first words of Dr. Franck s I ever read:
Born innocent, one
– that s I
strives hard to become
an adult, no longer childish,
in one s art, one s love,
one s life.
that no one ever
becomes an adult,
or pitifully juvenile& .
one s art to be outside the art game,
one s faith outside the religion game,
one s love outside the sex game
one s own little song
and dares to sing it
in all variations,
unsuited as it may be
for mass communication&
here and there
someone will hear it
I invite you to say Yes!
to the needs of the marginalized and the vulnerable.
to life with its birthing and dying.
to Christ s healing power to make us whole.
to life s pilgrimage to that sacred place within where we are renewed, enriched, and sanctified.
to God s presence, here and now, and for all eternity.