By Christine Sunderland
My good friend, wise counselor, sacrificial priest, and loving pastor, Archbishop Robert S. Morse, recently left us for Heaven at the age of 91. He is gathering with others before him, along the heavenly river that runs by the throne of God.
I owe him my life, at least my reborn life, after returning home from Canada to the Bay Area. I was twenty-nine, wounded from a disintegrating marriage, but on the third Sunday in January 1977, I climbed the broad steps of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Oakland, holding firmly the hand of my towheaded, bouncing, four-year-old son.
I was an Anglo-Catholic, having come from Vancouver’s St. James, so I had high expectations as I entered the hushed nave, but they were surpassed on that Sunday morning. The beauty of the liturgy with its fragrant incense, flaming candles, chanting responses, pulled me into the heart of God. The sixteenth-century poetic diction restored my soul. I had come home to beauty, truth, and goodness, to the family of God, the Body of Christ. I had entered Love incarnate.
Father Morse, a simple priest who preached earnestly about the love of God from the central aisle, welcomed us. The families of the parish adopted us. Over the years as I traveled in the faith, learning and praying, I began to glimpse heaven in the joy of praise and prayers. Slowly the veil parted. In time Father Morse became archbishop, and while many who make that journey succumb to pride, he remained humble. He grew in holiness, radiating God’s love. He inspired me to write about God’s love expressed in Christ, the Son of God who parted the veil by taking on our flesh, becoming incarnate.
My novels were born of that inspiration. The Holy Spirit, through this humble pastor, breathed into me the desire to inspire others, to reveal this great love. And that is the goal of the Christian writer – to part the veil between the seen and the unseen for their readers, so that they may feel and know the breath of God. Each of us has been inspired, breathed upon, by those who have gone before; we must mentor and inspire those who come after us.
I missed the chance to see the Star of Bethlehem rise in the heavens last week. I am intrigued by this natural wonder and what it might portend. Evidently, the conjunction of the planets Venus and Jupiter in the constellation of Leo and in particular with Regulus, Leo’s “king star,” had not occurred since 2-3 A.D. The veil of the heavens parted for a time, and stargazers wondered about the wonder as prophets prophesied.
Our world encourages us to wonder and prophesy, in sure and certain hope, waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. Recent decisions taken by the Supreme Court have added to the burden of believers. We have turned our eyes heavenward; the Bethlehem Star reminds us of our smallness, and yet, as Christians, of our great hope. Now more than ever Christian writers must reflect the light of this star formed by the breath of God in his creation of the heavens. Now more than ever, with wars and rumors of wars, with increasing threats to speech and religion, Christian writers must breathe upon their readers the unsearchable riches of Christ. They must reflect the glory of God.
My pastor carried hope in his eyes, in his affectionate greetings, his laughter, his joy. God’s glory shone through his simplicity. But he recognized evil when he saw it. As it slithered in the dark, he could hear its hiss. He was faithful and acted upon what he knew to be true, leaving a legacy of people who, we pray, carry the hope of Christ forward, using the tiny talents given each of us.
Our culture cries as if in its death throes. Writers – and publishers – must use words, images, and stories, to be like the Star of Bethlehem, to light the way forward. We must speak the truth, in love, to our brothers and sisters. We must heal the broken heart, comfort the despairing. We must not be afraid to follow that star to Bethlehem even if it leads to a lowly manger. And from that lowly manger we will rebuild our culture. For culture comes from cult, from belief, and we must share those beliefs, without fear.
My good friend, Bishop Morse, taught me this.
Christine Sunderland is author of five award-winning novels: Pilgrimage, set in Italy, Offerings, set in France, Inheritance, set England, Hana-lani, set in Hawaii, and The Magdalene Mystery, a quest for the true Mary Magdalene and the historicity of the resurrection, set in Rome and Provence. Her novel-in-progress, The Fire Trail, about the renewing of our civilization, is set in Berkeley, California. She serves as Managing Editor for the American Church Union (www.AmericanChurchUnion.com) and Project Manager for the Berkeley Center for Western Civilization (www.WesternCivCenter.org). Visit Christine at www.ChristineSunderland.com (website and blog).