Monday, October 30, 2006

As promised - in time for Halloween

Terrifying tales of the truly spooky

We hear lots of ghost stories this time of year. It's easy to dismiss them -- unless they happen to you.

This story is true. I know, because it happened to me.

Volume 1: The ghost in the kitchen

This happened a good 20 years ago, in a house on the beachside.

The house was only 10 or 15 years old at the time -- a younger, modern house where the paranormal would not be expected. There had been no deaths or weird things associated with the house, as far as I know.

A gentleman friend of mine (I hate the word "boyfriend" for anyone over the age of 21, and this reserved gentleman was older than me) lived in the house.

Something about that house made me feel uncomfortable, but I didn't know why. Maybe it was the dark red wall-to-wall carpeting against the stark-white plaster walls in the sparsely furnished house. Maybe it was the opaque light feeding in from the green-tinged glass-block windows in the living room.

It was a nice house, but there was something a little oppressive about it.

One evening I was there, with my friend. We were watching television, when I got up to make some tea. I walked out of the sunken living room, across the hall and into the open kitchen, from which the living room was visible, if I looked sideways. I busied myself with kettle, water, tea and tea cups.

As I prepared to pour the tea, I became aware of my friend walking up behind me. I got a glimpse of his white shirt reflecting in the kitchen window. He said nothing, but stood very close behind me. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck.

This silent "game" was totally unlike him.

I felt hemmed in by his lurking behind me, sighing his breath on my neck and standing so close, as he watched my tea-making over my shoulder. I whipped around to tell him to stop it.

Nobody was there.

I quickly looked into the living room, and he sat in the recliner, feet up, watching television -- as he had been when I left him to make the tea.

No living soul was in that house but the two of us, yet I am still, to this day, certain there was another presence within inches of me that night. What its intentions were, I can't say. Maybe it intended to be friendly - humorous - and a little flirty, the impression I had when I thought it was my friend.

Maybe it intended to spook me.

My friend had to travel sometimes because of his job, and he would ask me to pick up his mail and water the potted plants on the patio while he was gone. I could have stayed at the house and walked to the beach every day.

I would stay at the house sometimes while he was there, but something was just not right. I refused to be in that house alone after that, even for an hour.

Something there might have liked to have been alone with me, though.
The spooky side of St. Augustine

We had a great time on our ghost tour of St. Augustine. Tim, our tour guide and native St. Augustinian, walked us down dark streets to some of the old haunted houses and buildings of St. Augustine, and told us their stories.

Tim, our tour guide

Tim's storytelling was quite good, including his story about the haunting of one of St. Augustine's old cracker homes by a lady Tim knew when he was a kid. After she was found dead with a broken neck from a fall from the stairs, new owners would stay for only a couple of weeks, then they would leave and put the house up for sale again, amid stories of objects flying across the room toward the steps, strange noises and things that go bump in the night. And the story of the exploding Bishop Verot.....

I had no sense of any "thing" being with us except at the first stop, the old Tolomato Cemetery. It's possible something joined us there and stayed with us through part of the walk -- or was it just my imagination?

I got some interesting lighting effects in the cemetery's vicinity:

Here, the light from Tim's lantern appears to be rising and turning into the cemetery.

Strange lights

Lights from a horse-drawn buggy do odd things in this photo.

The only lame part of the evening was the last stop, at the Spanish Military Hospital. In use for years, dating back to the time of the Spanish occupation of St. Augustine, the hospital was said to have been the site of death for many soldiers. Medical practices were pretty barbaric in those days, and amputations were common.

Unfortunately, it had been turned into just another "Halloween haunted house," with painted actors, rubber props, noisy sound effects and pulsing lights. No self-respecting spooks would have put in an appearance through all that, but would have lain low until all the noise and confusion was gone, then regained their home.

Maybe it was better it was loud and obnoxious.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

It's my party

and I don't wanna cry! I'm celebrating my birthday this week. Maybe I'm another year older and deeper in debt, but my friends and spiritual family members are treating me well.

I had birthday dinner at Ken and Michelle's on the actual date, then they, Bob and Linda and Evelyn all took me downtown in our little burg last night for a wine-tasting festival, the proceeds of which go to scholarships for women. I wasn't allowed to pay for my ticket, but I sampled more wines than I can remember, and nibbled catered food from just about all the wine stations set up around the downtown.

Afterward, we went to a downtown drinkery (I was all drunk out by this time, and ordered only water) and heard some really good music.

Now, we're heading up to St. Augustine for dinner and a tour of some of its buildings on the "Ghost Walk." Sounds like fun.

I don't expect to run into any real spooks. I have a ghost story or two to tell, though. Maybe I'll get set them down here before Halloween.

Fall falls

Fall is just about my favorite time of year, in heavy competition with spring. One reason I chose to live in Central Florida instead of South Florida is here, we get a taste of the change of seasons.

October brings bright, sunny days and clear, starlit nights. As dying leaves depart from trees, the puffs of cool air on which they drift invigorate body and soul.

Fall is about life and death - even life despite death.

It's children, bursting with life and the promise of the future, who don Halloween costumes and symbolically take a poke in Death's eye.

"We're not scared of you," they say to death, goblins, ghouls and all the unholy horde. "Take a hike."

And so they should say, for we triumph over death through the life, death, love and work of Christ, who told us, "Do not fear; only believe."

It's fitting that as growing-time comes to an end, fields fall fallow, and lush-green trees turn orange, scarlet and golden, October is filled with celebrations of life - Halloween, fall festivals, arts festivals, music festivals.

In November, when many trees are nothing more than bare skeletons reaching toward heaven, and days are chill, we celebrate Thanksgiving, with thanks to God for grace that carries us through times of lack, both physically and spiritually.

Even in the darkest nights, we can celebrate the joy that will come in the morning.

In November, we begin to prepare for the advent of Christ, who brings the promise of life and the assurance of God's love for each of us.

Christmas is the fulfillment of that promise, and a celebration of the mystery: God is here, and he is yet to come.

If you're in Central Florida, and you see a zaftig, middle-aged woman kicking through a pile of leaves with abandon, carving a pumpkin, or whooping as she walks her dog through the brisk morning air, it might be me. Joy falls unexpectedly.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Happy feast day to you, St. Luke!

St. Luke is the patron saint of those in the healing ministries. He was thought to be Greek, possibly trained in medicine as a slave in his youth. He was a traveling companion to Paul.

James Keifer said:

"In Luke's account of the Gospel, we find an emphasis on the human love of Christ, on His compassion for sinners and for suffering and unhappy persons, for outcasts such as the Samaritans, tax collectors, lepers, shepherds (not a respected profession), and for the poor. The role of women in Christ's ministry is more emphasized in Luke than in the other Gospel writings."

Today's reading from the Gospel of Luke confirms Jesus' compassionate nature, and describes one of the miracles Jesus performed.

If you have any "natural" explanations to explain away the miracles, keep them to yourself. Jesus certainly performed them, and still does -- from a different place.

Luke 9:1-17:
He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, "Take nothing for the journey: neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and do not have a spare tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there; and when you leavelet your departure be from there. As for those who do not welcome you, when you leave their town shake the dust from your feet as evidence against them."
So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere. Meanwhile Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was going on; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, "John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?" And he was anxious to see him.
On their return the apostles gave him an account of all they had done. Then he took them with him and withdrew towards
a town called Bethsaida where they could be by themselves. But the crowds got to know and they went after him. He made them welcome and talked to them about the kingdom of God; and he cured those who were in need of healing. It was late afternoon when the Twelve came up to him and said, "Send the people away, and they can go to the villages and farms roundabout to find lodging and food; for we are in a lonely place here." He replied, "Give them something
to eat yourselves." But they said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we are to go ourselves and buy food
for all these people." For there were about five thousand men. But he said to his disciples, "Get them to sit down in parties of
about fifty." They did so and made them all sit down. Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven, and said the blessing over them; then he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted, and when the scraps left over were collected they filled twelve baskets.

Thank you St. Luke, for your gifts as a physician/healer and as a writer and chronicler of Jesus' ministry on Earth. Thank you for these glimpses of a gracious and compassionate human and God, who esteemed women, who helped sinners and healed the sick, and who brought hope into the world. We honor your work and ministry, St. Luke.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Flat Earth group to join CANA

ANCHORAGE (Saintly News Service) - The Flat Earth Society of Anchorage announced today it has petitioned to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), an arm of the Church of Nigeria in the U.S. CANA represents itself as a "real" Anglican presence in North America, in contrast to the newfangled and liberal "revisionist" Episcopal Church.

The news took many by surprise.

George B. Zablonski, leader of the Flat Earth group, explained, "We share so many things in common, like a literal interpretation of the Bible and a refusal to look at so-called evidence. Our credo is, 'Why do we say the Earth is flat, when the vast majority says otherwise? Because we know the truth.' Just so.

"In a like manner," he continued, "CANA and its affiliated groups, such as the Anglican American Council and the Anglican Communion Network, know the truth about God's will, gays, interpretation of scripture and who gets to go to heaven. They know the truth. It's so exciting to have allies."

Zablonski is looking forward to a working relationship with CANA, he indicated.

"The Flat Earth Society has lacked an enforcement arm ever since the Inquisition died out, and people began believing all sorts of scientific rubbish. They not only believe the Earth is shaped like an orange instead of a pancake, they believe the Earth revolves around the sun, instead of vice versa. It's crazy stuff. With this new affiliation, I think we'll be able to count on a little stoning where it will help people see things the right way."

CANA and its affiliates are prepared to greet the Flat Earthers.

The Rev. Canon Rector Bishop Marty Minns of Truro, Falls-Church-Nigeria said, "Wow. This is a spectacularly wonderful development. I know it will be a blessing to the missionary efforts of the Church of Nigeria and CANA. We and our Flat-Earth brethren share so much in common. We'll be able to support each other's efforts."

Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria said, "My people in my churches were delighted that I accepted this petition, and will acclaim it greatly when I ratify the petition tomorrow. They will fall down on their knees and thank God for me and my wisdom. I think I must go now and write an article for my newsletter, with quotes from my bishops on how great they find me."

Bishop Robert Duncan of the (for now) Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and moderator of the Network said, "I greet the dawning of this new day with joy. We have longed for an ally in our fight against progressive thinking. I'm right in the middle of drafting a revision to the Network Confession of Faith, adding a paragraph affirming the flatness of the Earth. It was remiss of us not to have included this paragraph from the get-go."

He added, "I've been talking it over with the Flat Earthers, and confiscating all the Bibles from our congregations, as we've recently done, won't do the trick alone. People might not be able to form their own opinion about Scripture from reading the Bible themselves -- instead of taking our word for what it means -- but they can still read books, magazines, and Internet articles. They will still be contaminated by 'progressive' thinking. No, what we need to do is phase out reading.

"We'll start home-schooling all our children, and pull them out as soon as they learn to put an 'X' for their signature on the Confession of Faith. They don't need schooling past the first grade -- it's plain dangerous to them. Instead, they can just listen to their priest in church and to the Flat Earthers outside of church. They will tell the people what they need to know, how to think and even how to vote. It'll be a joyful new day."

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Frank Griswold was unavailable for comment, but an unidentified aide who answered the phone said, "Oh, those CANA and Network people? We always figured they were Flat Earthers, anyway."

For more information on the Flat Earth Society, go here.