In Your Midst

A Refuge in Times of Trouble

April 2009

Cathedral parishioners share their stories

            People often tell me about the hope and peace they experience whenever they come into St. James Cathedral and I never tire of hearing their stories.  Stories from homeless people who tell me that they find a home—and a safe and peaceful refuge—in the Cathedral.  Stories from business and professional people who tell of stopping by the Cathedral on their way to or from work—maybe for Mass, maybe just for some moments of quiet prayer.  Stories from folks in the RCIA who tell me how, from the moment they first walked into St. James, they knew that God was in this place.   Stories from parishioners who tell me that Sunday Mass at the Cathedral is what energizes them for the week ahead.  Stories from people with no formal connection with the Church at all but who, in times of trial or challenge come to St. James to light a candle. Stories of this kind abound and, in one way or another, they are invariably stories of hope, stories of comfort, stories of light in times of darkness.

            This spring issue of In Your Midst features such stories from fellow parishioners.  Some of them are written against a pretty dark backdrop: illness, financial setbacks, a death in the family, personal struggles of one sort or another.  Each of them was written during Lent—the Lent of 2009 when winter has seemed more reluctant than usual to exit the scene and make room for spring.  And each of them was written in faith with an eye to Easter, to the triumph of light over darkness that Easter represents for us who believe.

            The journey we make through Lent to Easter is a very personal thing but it is not an isolated thing.  We make it in communion with one another.  Whether we know all our companions on the journey or not makes little difference: what we do know is that in the Body of Christ there are no strangers, only fellow travelers, brothers and sisters, companions on the great pilgrimage from darkness to light.

Father Michael G. Ryan

            In the mid-1990’s I was working on a series of small paintings titled “Tenebrae.”  I happened to see an announcement inviting the public to the Office of Tenebrae at the Cathedral.  I went.

            After the Office I left the Cathedral weeping, went home and wrote:

            “In te, Domine, speravi.  I’ve rediscovered my hope in you, God.

            “Before each candle was snuffed out, there was a pause.  During each pause I found myself recalling the deep sadness of what it means to lose light.  Each flame extinguished brought a personal memory of loss or despair or betrayal.

            “The soprano’s voice soared, a bird rising above chaos and darkness, as she sang Jeremiah’s Lamentations.  Benedictus Dominus.  I prayed, ‘Return me to my life’s true purpose, remind me of what real presence means…’ A presentiment of it given me as a young girl in an ancient English church, waiting for the bread and wine, the fragrance of Presence as I experienced it in the bunches of primroses and bluebells from Kentish woods laid out as offerings around the Easter altar.

            “The choristers’ feet made the clatter of chaos. Is His light extinguished forever in me after 35 years of being outside the Church, away from home?  Not quite.  The night sky, like a portion of beyond, glowed inside the frame of the circle window the Cathedral designed to let in both immanent and transcendent light.  The warm curve of cathedral stone reflected light that encircled us in Tenebrae.  The light listened to our shared meditations in the deepening darkness. Then the Christ candle returned.”

            St. James helped to convert me to the belief in art’s power to enlighten, convert and resurrect: a man gently strokes then kisses Christ’s feet on a crucifix; a corpus burned black survives fire, as did I; a bride places her bouquet at the Mary Shrine; angelic energies take shape in gauze; our patron, St. James as a puppet, blesses us; a Mary statue in a crate from Europe survives the storms around the Cape of Good Hope to arrive in America and at St. James.  All these, and more, give me messages of hope in the God-Language of art.

            I come to St. James, suffering from the darker aspects of my life and others’ lives, to experience again and again resurrection through the Eucharist and the celebration of beauty.

Elizabeth Winder

            I was in the RCIA dismissal group the Sunday after 9/11. We all wanted to stay together rather than be divided into smaller groups for reflection and discussion.  It seemed we wanted to lean on each other as we were learning of God’s grace and abundant love.  Over time, and often thinking back to that Sunday, I’ve found the community that is St. James to be the perfect refuge in difficult times.  Perhaps I’m going out on a limb, but I don’t come here looking for concrete answers as to why such nefarious things are allowed to happen or when a difficult time will be over.  What I do come for is to be reminded of that grace, abundant love, and hope.  “God’s thoughts are not my thoughts nor is God’s time my time” is my personal mantra.

            Holy Week points out these promises through the humanity of Jesus.  As we lose loved ones, experience health problems, stress over job loss, problems with family or friends—the list can go on and on—it is difficult not to feel isolated, abandoned, angry, despairing.  But Jesus chose to experience this collective anguish for us all.

            I’m reminded of my favorite Gospel story which is the woman at the well.  Not long ago I took a picture of a sculpture on the grounds of The Upper Room in Nashville, Tennessee depicting this story.  Jesus is sitting on some rocks talking quietly to a woman who has rested her water jug on the edge of the well.  She is listening intently.  We heard this story the Third Sunday of Lent.  “Who is Jesus?” we were asked.  This Samaritan woman is wondering the same thing.  The homily pointed out that we are led to discover Jesus in our own way.  No matter our station in life, our shortcomings, even our doubts, He is there gently pointing the way. He is letting us know, if we will listen, that he took this anguish as His own and turned it into living water so that we may be renewed.  Resurrection and new life awaits us.

            “God’s time is not my time”:  but as we come to the baptismal waters does time really matter?  Can we slow down?  Look at that daffodil squeezing between a rock and a fence post.  It’s blooming.  Is there a message in that? Perhaps we all can be like that Samaritan woman who wasn’t in a hurry to leave, asked questions, was amazed that Jesus would talk to her. And, like her, we can use our time on earth as witnesses to the promise to come: God’s infinite time with us!

Shirley Wright

            Lent begins and I ask once more:  How am I being called to grow this season?  What am I to discover in these 40 days?  Helping those in need has become part of my life.  Some years I felt justified in sitting back and proclaiming that I had already had my experience of sacrifice, of giving up—I had an “unscheduled” Lenten desert experience earlier.  I felt in a role of observer, rather than seeker or participant. 

            So, I entered the Lenten season waiting.  I extended daily quiet reflection time.  Here, in prayer I found a shift from the struggle to create an experience, to opening up to listening—to letting go of expectation.  There was peace in letting Jesus love me just where I was this season.  The expectation to know early in Lent how I was to work toward a heightened sense of the season, or a deeper renewal, had to be let go.  

            Through prayer, without a clear “Yes, I am ready.”  And, in the middle of this loss, this grief, there has been a grace—a nudge to look again and see my personal heartache as my Lenten cross.  I was to “take off the struggle” that was beginning to become my life, and, at the same time, accept it.  In this quiet place of prayer I was to listen and let go—to “be still and know!”  
This grace of an internal submitting becomes real again in the faces of my St. James friends.   It is real in a hand held, a prayer offered, a listening heart that does not turn away from pain.  The peace that comes from praying with my St. James community, and sharing Eucharist, reminds me as I look to Holy Week that the pain of loss and grief is becoming more bearable, and these sacred moments of community prayer are a pathway to experiencing Jesus’ promise:

            You are my beloved.  You are not alone.


            Sixty three years ago as a fourteen year old, I asked my mother if I could go to O’Dea High School.  Her answer was “yes” and she went on to say that if I hadn’t asked she would have insisted.  In that instance, my history with Saint James began. In essence, I became a parishioner even though throughout my meanderings, we as a family participated in many communities.  The bond of Saint James and O’Dea is one of the benefits of my life. Now at the other end of life, I have been asked to write a meditation—an image—an aura, to describe this jewel of Christianity. With so much to say and so little space I offer this feeble attempt.

            When you step from the blinding secular world into the Cathedral, time stops. For a moment, you are transported into another dimension of peace. When the Cathedral is empty the silence is unbelievable and beautiful to the unsuspecting. You begin to appreciate that our secular lives are controlled by cell phones, ipods, TV (the Roman Circus), computers, etc., all bombarding our senses for a myriad of trivial reasons. You may even suspect that no one wants us to take time to think, probably because thought, meditation and prayer can be dangerous.

            As you look around, you may spy a green flyer entitled “Where to go for help.” It is a directory to assist those in need and lists over 50 programs. Many are sponsored by St. James and its vigorous community and many others are available in Seattle and beyond. The Letter of James concludes:  “if good works do not go with it [Faith], it is quite dead” (2:14-17) .

            The Faith at Saint James is alive and well and always in need of our support to carry on.

May our Father hear our pleas.
May the Son envelop us
with Compassion, Love and Forgiveness.
May the Holy Spirit endow us
with reason, understanding and wisdom.
May the Trinity saturate the very core of our soul.
And if all in life seems to fail,
May Our Mother wipe our tears.

Dr. Robert Fouty

            The light and shadows of the cathedral in the morning, especially during winter weekdays in the early days of Lent, evoke a very different feeling from when the cathedral is lit in all its splendor for Sunday Mass.  Only the altar and baptistery are bathed in light.  High above the floor the grand arches and golden column capitals are lit, as are the side aisles.  The wooden pews and chairs glow softly.  All the other features are dimly lit only indirectly and have a strong three-dimensional quality emphasized by powerful shadows.  I think the cathedral is most glorious in this play of dark and light, and speaks eloquently of Lent and of our journey through darkness in search of light.  On early Sunday mornings the special Lenten lighting before Mass suggests this, but it is easy to miss if we don’t pay attention.

            Darkness and light have been a recurring theme in my life, and the cathedral has become a powerful metaphor for my journey over the last few years.  About eight years ago, at the time I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I was sitting in the darkened cathedral one morning during Lent trying to understand the meaning of my disease for my family and my life.  I thought that Dr. Samuel Johnson said it well—“to know that one is to be hanged in a fortnight focuses the mind wonderfully.”  This is surely true.  However, there also came to mind words I vaguely recalled from a Lenten reading…  “It was good for me to be afflicted that I might learn your will.”  I later learned that these words were from Psalm 119.

            As I was trying  to understand their meaning for me in this mood of darkness and light, out of the shadows came a woman whom I had never met, but whom I had seen before at the 8:15am Mass.  She had no reason to know of my situation.  She came up to me, looked directly at me and said, “God told me that everything is going to be all right.”  She then returned to her seat.  My head was spinning, trying to understand the significance of what I had just heard.  I still don’t understand what happened.  To this day it is a great mystery that I respect and hold close.  It has become a blessing that overshadows me, especially in times of more intense challenges.  She was right, of course, because what she said has been borne out by my experience since then.  Indeed, God has gotten my attention, and at some deep level I know that in fact everything is all right, both in the light and in the shadows.

            Frank Robl

            On Good Friday, 2007, my husband John was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.  He had the best medical care, and the support of friends, family, and co-workers, but our touchstone, the place that held us together, was St. James.  St. James, a community of prayer.

            Our Putting God First group prayed for us, encouraged us, checked up on us. Father Ryan did the same, and administered the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to John before chemo started. I suspect that the people we didn’t know, who sat near us at Mass and shared the Sign of Peace with us, prayed for the pale bald guy who wore a thick sweatshirt even on the warmest summer day. We saw the face of God everywhere we looked.

            Going to Mass was a relief. We could just be. No one asked anything of us. God certainly didn’t. We felt both lifted up and left alone—a lovely combination when we were overwhelmed by information, questions, and decisions. The readings and the homilies so often addressed a need, sometimes a need we didn’t know we had.

            One Sunday, I was kneeling after Communion and praying with a rather desperate, pitiful tone. John was very sick. I was weary and full of fear. “What should I do? I don’t know what to do.” Clear as a bell, God answered with “Finish the Sudoku quilt.” I was startled, but understood.  On my quilt wall, there was a half-finished quilt, based on a Sudoku puzzle. The answer to my prayer was—go forth and sew. Be in the moment.  One stitch at a time.

            Of course God is never finished with us (and sometimes we are slow to learn this!).  Much later, I put the rest of the message together. That quilt was for New Beginnings Shelter. Making those quilts is part of my being the face of God, as one who serves. But making those quilts heals me, too.

            John’s lymphoma is in remission. He is singing in the Cathedral Choir. I still make quilts and wish I wasn’t so anxious.  Going to Mass continues to be a source of relief and inspiration, and the friendships we’ve made continue to lift us up. We are thankful that we are Easter people.

            As a dear friend of mine said about St. James, “I don’t believe in God, but that place has a good vibe.”

            Imagine, I told her, what it must feel like to us.

Peggy Jarrett

            In April of 2005 my family and I were sitting in St. James Cathedral in prayer for Pope John Paul II, when we heard the bells ring out that he had gone to be with our Lord.  Later that day, I found myself feeling more sad and empty than I could, in that moment, understand. Later I found out that my sister Lisa had died about the same time as our Pope. She was only 40 years old. I felt so much loss and sadness for not only our Church but for myself. I lost my sister, my friend. Over the next few months we found ourselves here at St. James more often. Through support of parishioners, wonderful staff and the healing words of Father Ryan’s homilies, we were able to process death and understanding of new life through new eyes, through God’s eyes.

           After many conversations with my husband Kevin, we enrolled our children Megan and Greg in the Children’s RCIA program.  To watch their faith grow and develop has been further confirmation of God’s love.  They have become such a stronghold of faith and prayer for our family. As my husband witnessed their growth, he too wanted to be a part of St. James Cathedral. Sitting with him many late nights after his RCIA class, having beautiful talks of his journey in faith was again, affirmation of God’s love for us.

            To the credit of the staff here at St. James I was able to witness our children as they escorted him down the aisle to the baptismal font for his baptism. This was one of the most beautiful gifts in my life. I truly felt God’s love and presences in our lives. Megan has since joined the choir and reads for the children in the chapel and Greg truly loves serving at the noon Mass. St James has granted them an opportunity to continue their own faith journey.

            My Grandmother passed away January 2008. This was incredibly difficult for me. She is still so special in my life. Finding myself in this world without her seemed unbearable; I found continual guidance and strength here in so many people. Father Ryan’s homilies once again guided me through the pain I didn’t think I could handle. Reaffirming for me that God’s love for us is eternal:  even in death, life begins anew.

Angela Leland

            I recall participating as a Eucharistic Minister in a Sunday liturgy at a large Episcopal church in Seattle, my home parish for 12 years, when I got the message very distinctly: I want you to become a Catholic.

            This experience (something for which, years later, I am still trying to find words) was more than a little unsettling. My reaction at the time was, Why?  I was deeply involved in numerous ministries in a denomination I loved dearly, and where I had many friends.  Why would God ask me to uproot my whole life? Wasn’t I already doing God’s will? How would my family and friends react?  Was I insane?  I lost sleep over whether this call was really from God.

            During this period of inner wrestling, I realized that this “tugging” wouldn’t go away. In fact, it only grew stronger.

            I spent two years in quiet discernment.  I eventually, grumblingly, came to a place where I said, “OK. I’ll look into it, but I’m not promising anything.”  So, without telling a soul, I headed for the only Catholic church I knew: St. James Cathedral.
That morning, shortly after Pentecost, at the same time I walked into St. James, who should come out of the same door but Lee Bedard, who was my sponsor when I entered the Episcopal church many years before. It was a joyful reunion, as we’d lost track of each other.

            The reason, I soon discovered, was that Lee had undergone her own period of discernment, and had since returned to the Catholic Church. 

            The short story is: a week or so later, Lee became my sponsor again. I went through the RCIA process at St. James, and in 2003, I entered the Catholic Church.

            In the years since, St. James Cathedral has solidly guided my growth as a person of faith. Since entering the Church, I’ve become a reader and Eucharistic Minister. Last year, I completed the Cabrini Ministry program, and I now volunteer as a Eucharistic Minister at Swedish and Harborview. I’m beginning to volunteer with the Pastoral Care team at St. James, in the ministry with seniors. I am currently, joyfully, sponsoring one of the Elect as he prepares to be baptized this Easter.
St. James Cathedral has never swayed in its ability to inspire my faith. I share with many an appreciation for the beautiful Masses and liturgies, the life-shaping homilies, the exceptional music, RCIA and continuing education programs, and the many well-run opportunities to follow Jesus’ call to minister to the poor and vulnerable. 

            From my previous faith tradition I’ll always be grateful to several exceptional mentors who shaped me. With that, I’ve come to view my early spiritual path as if I was looking at a postcard of the Grand Canyon: greatly appreciating the glory of the picture, but in the end, safely, even passively, viewing it.

            What I realize as a Catholic is that I’m actually in the Grand Canyon, with beauty and magnificence on all sides surrounding, enveloping, even overwhelming me.  But then, God’s love does that. Especially when we respond.  When I say “yes,” I experience the love of God in moments large and small, here at St. James, and beyond its bronze doors. Here, I experience grace-filled moments, when the veil of my ego and pride is lifted, and I glimpse the truth, glorious beyond measure, which fully awaits us all as children of faith.

            I give thanks to God for the Holy Spirit’s shaping of this sacred place, and for how it shapes the people, from all walks of life, who call St. James home.

Scott Webster

            In 1994 at age 22, I bought a one-way ticket from California to Seattle. I packed my suitcase and all the moxie I could muster, and moved to the Emerald City to start a grand adventure. The day I arrived, I headed for the “saint” section of the phone book to find a church where I could take classes on Catholicism. I wanted to become Catholic.  I thank God for bold text and big font size because the large listing for St. James Cathedral in the white pages changed my life.

            I enrolled in the RCIA program as a catechumen and immersed myself in the teachings of the Church.  The faith community that surrounded me was vibrant, welcoming and diverse. I felt myself falling in love with the Roman Catholic faith, invigorated by the energy of the Holy Spirit.

            On Ash Wednesday 1995, my mother arrived unannounced from California to bring me devastating news: my beloved father had taken his own life. My Lenten journey suddenly took on an entirely different meaning as I prepared for my own baptism while grieving Papa’s suicide.

            I went to the Cathedral every weeknight during Lent to hear the words of Scripture and be reassured by the gentle movements of the Mass. I had decided that church was to be my safe haven; whatever grief or loneliness I felt that day, I knew I could let my tears flow within St. James’ embrace. Grief was my constant companion and Saint James made my broken heart endurable. The experience taught me how to put my complete and utter trust in God.  St. James and its community of believers kept me lovingly directed toward Christ during my period of suffering.

            As Lent continued, I felt the eager anticipation of the St. James community as I approached the waters of baptism. On April 15, 1995 I was the first adult to be baptized in the immersion font of the renovated Cathedral. I’ll never forget the feeling of the holy water flowing over my head, of seeing my mother in the pew crying tears of joy, and feeling my father’s presence as I devoted myself to the Father who loves me even more than my Papa did.  Forty days after my father’s death, I was born into new life with Christ through the waters of baptism.  Now, fifteen years after my baptism, I give thanks for the blessings of Saint James Cathedral and our community of faith, for well-placed phone book listings, and for the God of Hope and Love.

Brooke Kingston

            It is not hard with the economy spiraling down and our country stuck fighting multiple wars to feel that we have crossed into darker days with many more to come. For many, these events have brought about a threat to our sense of security and many of our dreams. Dark days indeed.

            I have always appreciated St. James Cathedral as place to recharge my battery and to put life outside of Mass in a proper perspective. But in dark days like this I have found myself looking more and more for a lifeline, some kind of light to brighten daily struggles. My yearning for relief was heightened when I was laid off from my job earlier this year. It provided me an unwelcomed pre-Lenten desert experience.

            Coming to this cathedral of ours particularly during Lent lifts me because I know that brighter days are ahead as we approach Easter. I am bolstered by the belief that, just as Good Friday has to come before Easter, that pain, suffering, and sometimes death will lead to new life—Resurrection.

            It is in that brief hour of so each week during Mass that the resurrection of our Lord is made present to us. And it is in the resurrection that we can turn our collective brokenness into joy. This joy is not tied to any index or measure of our own estimation. This joy is grounded in God’s unconditional love for us revealed in Christ. It is a joy that makes a difficult life livable.
Still it is not easy to live in this joy when it is your retirement, your home, your sense of security that is in jeopardy. I am grateful for the prayers I receive from this community and am hopeful for those for whom I pray. I do not enjoy this time in the desert. But I have a lifeline in our worship here, and I have an eternal ray of hope that we will share in Christ’s resurrection, even in the midst of crisis, and receive new life.

Stuart Ling


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