Miracle on Cerrillos

November 29, 2008

The following poem was written when I was a tutor at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I went down yesterday
To the Villa Linda Mall.
I drove there in my Volkswagen
To see what I could find.
The name of J.C. Penney
Was emblazoned on the wall,
As though portending blessings
Or a broadening of the mind.

A portly man in a red suit
Came through the men’s room door.
I had a funny feeling
That I’d seen that man before.
The hoary hair of wisdom
Hung like mosses from his chin.
I looked at him intently
And he brightened with a grin.

“You must be Santa Claus,” I said,
Attempting a surmise,
“Unless you are some other man
In Santa Claus’ disguise.”
On hearing this, he laughed aloud
His trademark “Ho! ho! ho!”
Exhibiting his identity
As clear as Arctic snow.

“I am the very person that
You think I am,” he said.
“What else would I be doing here
All dressed in white and red?”
He laughed again profoundly, making
All my bones to shake.
I knew somehow implicitly
He could not be a fake.

I asked him then if he would tell
The causes of his stay,
And how long he was visiting
Us here in Santa Fe.
“I am on contract with this mall
To come in coat and cap
And sit here and be photographed
With children on my lap.

“For folks have fallen on hard times
Back home at the North Pole,
And we’ve been much affected by
The growing ozone hole.”
A sadness seemed to fill his eye;
I saw he bore a freight
Of anxious care with his great bulk
And his prodigious weight.

We stood awhile there talking
By a neon-lighted store
While shoppers in their multitudes
Passed by along the floor.
They seemed to be possessed by some
Uncanny, primal urge,
Oblivious to every thought
Except the will to splurge.

At length, he had to go to work,
And so he shook my hand,
Which sank into his glabrous grasp
Like dry wood in quicksand.
And, so it was, we parted then,
Each on his way to wend,
And our confabulation came
Regrettably to end.

By now, the brilliant orb of day
Had sunk beneath the earth,
And to my trusty Volkswagen
I trudged with pensive tread.
I found it strange that Santa Claus,
The man of blessed mirth,
Should be reduced to working malls
To earn his daily bread.
And so I came back to my home
And ate my humble fare.
God grant us all this Christmas
To remember why we care.

Shopping incident

November 28, 2008

At the bookstore where I work, I spoke with a customer this afternoon as she was purchasing a book. She asked if there had been any incidents in the mall adjoining the bookstore; I told her I didn’t know of any. Then she mentioned that, this morning, a man was trampled to death at a store in New York City, as a huge, frenzied crowd rushed to buy high-definition TVs.

Black Friday” indeed.

Thanksgiving Day

November 27, 2008

Almighty God, who turnest the heart of the fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers: Receive, we pray Thee, our unfeigned thanks for the good land which Thou hast given us. Forgive our transgressions; cleanse us from things that defile our national life, and grant that this people, which Thou hast abundantly blessed, may keep Thy commandments, walk in Thy ways, and fear Thee. Be gracious to our times, that by Thy bounty both national quietness and Christian devotion may be duly maintained. Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children; and let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands, establish Thou it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer from The Book of Common Worship: Approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (Philadephia, 1946), p. 112.

Jerusalem brawl

November 15, 2008

Well a bunch of the monks were whooping it up
In Jerusalem last week.
There was Gregory the Armenian
And Constantine the Greek;
There were worshippers with kerchiefed heads
Who stood behind in the gloom
As a sacred rite was taking place
In the Church of the Holy Tomb.

Nobody seems exactly sure
Who threw the initial punch,
But the Greeks stood in the Armenians’ way,
And told them to go to lunch.
Words turned to shoves, then off came the gloves,
And the fists flew fast and free
Before the ancient sepulchre
Where lay divinity.

Then Yuri the Israeli cop
Pulled Gregory to the floor
While Yiayia Parasceva
Kicked the cop, and cursed and swore.
Then Constantine threw Fr. Sam
A quick right to the cheek.
But Deacon Dave fought back and gave
A good gash to the Greek.

After the last punch had been thrown
Nobody seemed ashamed.
Each swore his proper innocence;
Each side the other blamed.
And cameramen had filmed events
So all the world could see
This edifying Christian scene
On digital TV.

How glad I am to be in a Church
Where churchmen defend their rights,
Where every inch of territory
Occasions feuds and fights,
Where honest people take the time
To settle an old score
And, in defense of holy things,
Act like the devil’s whore.


My apologies to Robert Service. The above verses attempt to immortalize an altercation which took place last Sunday morning at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The names are fictitious, but the events took place more or less as described. If anything, the brawl was more serious than I have been able to describe it here; it amounted to a liturgical desecration. The Armenian Orthodox Church was celebrating the feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross, one of four feasts of the Cross on the Armenian calendar. Undoubtedly, the fact that this particular observance of the feast was taking place at the very place where Jesus was buried invested the ceremony with a special solemnity.

The Greeks claim that it is customary for a Greek monk to be present inside the Edicule, the sanctuary built over the traditional site of Jesus’ burial, whenever any non-Greek-Orthodox Christian enters the structure. The Armenians maintain that it is customary for their liturgical use of the sanctuary to occur without a Greek chaperone. As yet I have found no evidence that would allow me to judge of the truth of either of these claims. The altercation took place Sunday morning after some Greek clergy interrupted the Armenian procession in order to press their case.

Here is how Matt Friedman, a reporter from the Associated Press, described the event:

Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity’s holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergymen after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus’ tomb.

The clash broke out between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

It began as Armenian clergymen marched in an annual procession commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus. It ended with the arrival of dozens of riot policemen who separated the sides, seizing a bearded Armenian monk in a red-and-pink robe and a black-clad Greek Orthodox monk with a bloody gash on his forehead. Both men were taken away in handcuffs.

Six Christian sects divide control of the ancient church. They regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police are occasionally forced to intervene.

The feud revolves around a demand by the Greek Orthodox to post a monk inside the Edicule – the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus – during the Armenian procession. The Armenians refused, and when they tried to march the Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way.

“We were keeping resistance so that the procession could not pass through…and establish a right that they don’t have,” said a young Greek Orthodox monk with a cut next to his left eye. The monk, who gave his name as Serafim, said he sustained the wound when an Armenian punched him from behind and broke his glasses.

Father Pakrat of the Armenian Patriarchate said the Greek demand was against the status quo arrangement and against the internal arrangement of the Holy Sepulcher. He said the Greeks attacked first.

Archbishop Aristarchos, the chief secretary of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, said his monks had not initiated the violence. “I’m sorry that these events happened in front of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the most holy religious monument of Christianity,” he said.

The rest of the article is also worth reading; it may be found at: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1035666.html.

The Guardian website has a video of the brawl: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2008/nov/10/armenian-greek-clergy-brawl.

Is it too much to hope that the global news coverage of this ugly event might actually shame the Churches into adopting a common policy towards use and ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

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