Friday, April 30, 2010

A simply gorgeous chant

Artist: Simone Martini

Please do go over to the YouTube site and listen to this:

I would give it to you here but the embedding feature has been disabled.

It is a monastery choir singing (i.e. not a professional group). Deeply evocative - at least to me it is.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Something about goodness

Artist: Unknown (14th Century)

I seem to be drawn these days to quotations about the ordinary things and the little things. Here's another:

Those who wait to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything. Life is made up of little things. True greatness consists in being great in the little things.

-- Samuel Johnson

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Prayer for Courage

Artist: Abbott Handerson Thayer

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers,
But to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,
But for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield,
But to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,
But hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward,
feeling your mercy in my success alone,
But let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.

-- Rabindranath Tagore

I am particularly moved by the very last line of this prayer. I know that I, myself, am not able to be fearless - at least, not yet. Nor am I able to stop myself from looking for allies. I must admit that I don't deal particularly well with pain. And, I'm sad to say that anxiety and I are old traveling companions. But, oh, that last line! I know what it is to find the grasp of God's hand in my failure - yes, I do - and for that I am grateful beyond expression.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Who are we? Where are we?

Artist: Francisco de Goya

Suppose we really believed this. Then suppose we made a consistent effort to show it forth:

I am a place where God's love turns up in this world.

M. Basil Pennington in Listening

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Good Shepherd Sunday

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

- From Revelation 7

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Holding a skyscraper

Artist: Claude-Max Lochu

Just because I'm really wanting to post verse tonight. Just because I really like Sandburg and just because I really like this particular poem:

Prayers of Steel

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.

-- Carl Sandburg

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bard and the spiritual path

It's Shakespeare's birthday. (At least, we think it is.)

Anyone who is serious about the spiritual path would do well to study Shakespeare because of his astonishing insight into human nature and character. Just as you can find any emotion you want to express as part of your prayer somewhere in the psalms, so you will find everything you need about human motivation and the passions in Shakespeare.

Here's a sonnet that has been very meaningful to me for decades now. The poet reflects on impermanence and how vanity (as well as a spirit of acquisition) undermines true spiritual health. It's Sonnet 146:
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Ruled by these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

Artist: Martin Johnson Heade

Some very good questions are posed in the following quotation. Today would be a good day to reflect on them:

How do we live in creation? Do we relate to it as a place full of "things" we can use for whatever we want to fulfill and whatever goal we wish to accomplish? Or do we see creation first of all as a sacramental reality, a sacred space where God reveals to us the immense beauty of the Divine?

As long as we only "use" creation, we cannot recognize its sacredness because we are approaching it as if we were its owners. But when we relate to all that surrounds us as created by the same God who created us and as the place where God appears to us and calls us to worship and adoration, then we are able to recognize the sacredness of all God's handiwork.

-- Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Somthing really important about love

"Narcissus" by Michaelangelo

It is actually a form of exploitation to want another to be primarily an extension of oneself. Even so, it is tragically common. Merton expresses this truth simply, briefly, skillfully:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.

~Thomas Merton

Monday, April 19, 2010

More sunrises than cyclones

"Sunrise Over Diamond Head" by Jules Tavernier

I think, despite what I consider to have been an excellent and life-giving early religious formation, that I have also fallen prey at times to the notion that God's will is likely to be something distasteful or painful for me. I well remember when it dawned on me in prayer that the God in whom I truly believe is a God who profoundly desires my well-being. And so I particularly appreciated the final sentence in the following quotation:

It seems to be a general belief that the will of God is to make things distasteful for us, like taking bad-tasting medicine when we are sick, or going to the dentist. Somebody needs to tell us that the sunrise is also God’s will. There is the time of harvest, the harvest which will provide food and clothes for us, without which life could not be sustained on earth. God ordered the seasons—they are his will. In fact, the good things in life far outweigh the bad. There are more sunrises than cyclones.

- Charles L. Allen

Friday, April 16, 2010

Quite a challenge

Why not make the following experiment, which will not only be thrillingly interesting, but will certainly teach you more in one day than you could learn from books or lectures in many weeks. Here is what you have to do: For one whole day think, speak, and act exactly as you would if you were absolutely convinced of the truth of the statements that God has all power and infinite intelligence, and that His nature is infinite goodness and love. To think in this manner all day will be the most difficult thing, because it is so subtle. To speak in accordance with these truths will be easier, if you are vigilant. To act in accordance with them will be the easiest part, although it may require much in the way of moral courage.
This would be an intriguing experiment indeed. The hardest part, it seems to me, would be remembering it all day in the first place.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

To consider oneself a physician

"Corridor in the Asylum" by Van Gogh

I listen to many people who express great distress over the behavior and attitudes of other people. If we all thought of ourselves as healers, that would help. It would help even more if we did not expect the world to be other than it is:

To think the world therefore a general Bedlam, or place of madmen, and oneself a physician, is the most necessary point of present wisdom: an important imagination, and the way to happiness.

-- Thomas Traherne

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Even more on the ordinary

Artist: Antonio Sicurezza

Just lately it has turned out that a number of the quotations or passages that have caught my eye for this blog have been about cultivating an appreciation for the ordinary. I really haven't gone looking for them. Rather, they seem to have come to me. So here's the latest one:

The eye that sees nobility and beauty in what another would regard as ordinary is the eye of prayer.

Wendy Beckett in The Gaze of Love

Maybe some of you remember having seen Wendy Beckett on television. She's a solitary nun who has used various works of art as focal points for her contemplation and then shared those observations with others.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reverence for all things and all people

Artist: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

It is all to easy to devalue ordinary things. I think it's possible that such an approach can lead to devaluing ordinary people. Here's something that speaks to this issue:

Let everything you touch be treated as if it were as precious as the altar vessels. Whenever you handle any equipment or any person, be reverent. Be full of care with everything entrusted to you. Everything you touch or see, everyone for whom you have responsibility, is to be viewed as something cherished by God, and thus to be cherished by you.

— Norvene Vest in Friend of the Soul

I don't think this means we have to be obsessive-compulsive about our possessions or about various objects. I do think it means we need to wake up to the reality of how we habitually look at anything or anyone.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Something that made me think

Artist: Friedrich Perlberg

You know, I think this is often true:

In some awful, strange, paradoxical way, atheists tend to take religion more seriously than the practitioners.

- Jonathon Miller

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Low Sunday

Well, today is also called "Thomas Sunday" and I came across an essay that makes the case that Thomas has long received a "bad rap" - something I've believed for some time now:
Where was Thomas when Jesus first appeared? John doesn't tell us. My own guess was that he was out and about getting on with his life. Why do I think that? Because Thomas was a realist. Let's not forget: in chapter 11, it's Thomas who recognizes that for Jesus to return to Judea is to face the threat of death, and it's Thomas who urges the other disciples to go with Jesus. So while we don't know where Thomas was when Jesus first appeared, we do know where he wasn't – locked in the upper room for fear of the religious authorities.
And that, of course, was where the other disciples were.

The piece is entitled "It's Not About Thomas" by Lutheran pastor David J. Lose. You might like to click through and read it because it's not very long.
UPDATE: Here's something I just learned on the page linked to through the words "Thomas Sunday" above:
It is the custom in some Orthodox parishes to travel to the cemetery on this day to pray, light candles, and to sing "Christ is Risen!" to deceased family members. If your parish does this, make sure to take your children even if you don't have any family members buried there. They need to learn that we Orthodox pray for the dead. If your parish does not so this, you and your family can go on your own, say a prayer for the dead listed in most prayer books, and sing "Christ is Risen!" Be sure to take and light candles at each grave you visit.
What a wonderful tradition! It's too late in the evening for me to do this now but I hope I remember next year. I think it would be very meaningful even though I don't have any family members buried here in Oklahoma. In Christ, we are all family!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The futility of declaring sin illegal

Artist: Francisque Millet

Today's religious right could sometimes be seen to be promoting a new puritanism. But, you know, it really doesn't work to impose one's belief system or moral code on other people:

Two thousand years of failure have not taught some reformers that you can't stop sin by declaring it illegal. Two thousand years have not taught them that you can't save a man's soul by force -- you can only lose your own in the attempt. Drunkenness and gambling and secularism and lechery -- various hopeful churchmen have earnestly tried to outlaw them all; and what is the result? A drunken nation, a gambling nation, a secularist nation, an adulterous nation. And, often, a ruined Church.

-- Joy Davidman

In case you don't recognize the name Joy Davidman, she wrote a number of books including Smoke on the Mountain (from which the above passage is taken) and was also married to C.S. Lewis.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New every morning

Artist: Joaquin Sorolla

The Baal Shem Tov said many marvelous things. Here's one that is particularly lovely:

The world is new to us each morning — that is the Lord's gift, and we should believe we are reborn each day.

Baal Shem Tov

When I was in the convent, we were taught to consider that each night when we went to sleep was a death and then waking up in the morning was resurrection - rebirth!

It's a wonderful way to live. Truly.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Believing in the Resurrection

Artist: Wolfram Plotzke

It's been a while since I've visited the Spirituality and Practice site (which I highly recommend, by the way). One of the regular features is called Spiritual Practice of the Day and each one contains both a quotation and a suggestion for putting the idea into practice. Here's one from a while back that I found:
To believe in the resurrection means that we cannot stop at our wounds.
— Patricia McCarthy quoted in Behold Your Life by Macrina Wiederkehr

To Practice This Thought: Honor your pain but don't entomb yourself in it.
I often find myself listening to someone who is caught by, stuck in, a wound that is actually decades old. I don't fault people for this, of course, because usually they truly don't know how to get out of that tomb. If we find ourselves trapped in this way, however, we really do need to find someone who can help us break free.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That which is not

Artist: Fra Angelico

I have long appreciated the medieval theologians who asserted that we must not attempt to say what God is - only what God is not. The following excerpt from an Easter sermon reflects that same principle:

An empty tomb. Our great Christian symbol of life and hope is found in something missing, something not there, a displacement...

For this empty tomb is full of meaning. From this empty tomb, hewn in rock, we as Christians draw forth all of our faith and hope for this world and for the kingdom to come. At this empty tomb we find the Christ of eternity alive in the here and now. From this chasm, a symbol of death and defeat, comes forth victory and life itself. Christ’s tomb is the earthen fissure through which God’s love pours out upon our parched world of sin and death.

We do not know how this is so. But then there are a lot of things we do not know. How life began in some ocean lagoon billions of years ago, for instance. Or even how our parents fell in love. Just as our lives today are in some real sense mysteries we shall never fathom, so is the Resurrection for us a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life. Or perhaps more to the point, it is a sharing by God in our lives.

-- The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus

Maybe as we continue to ponder the mystery of the Resurrection, we could well reflect on what is not. What are the things that now are not true about us, are not part of our lives, that speak to us most strongly of our own personal resurrection? I can think of quite a few, actually. I imagine we all can.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A heart's-clarion!

Mary Magdalen announcing the resurrection

Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood,
immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday

"Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels"
I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

- from Psalm 130

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

Artist: El Greco

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Learning to accept the care and service of others

Maundy Thursday is so very rich. I realize that I could focus on a number of important events for this blog post today including the institution of the Eucharist, the agony in the garden and the betrayal of Judas. But I've decided to go with foot washing.

A webpage partially entitled "Finding new meaning in ancient symbols" includes the following by a woman named Elinor:
I never connected this with my own life until this year, when I was forced to be absolutely dependent on others to take care of me after I had surgery. It was a helpless feeling, and I was so thankful for the wonderful nurses and aides who tended to my needs, including washing my feet. Their gift of service was so enormous in comparison with anything I could do for others at that time.

Being a 75-year-old grandma who was used to doing everything myself, and sometimes helping others, made it difficult to accept. But my helpers reflected the love God has for us in every situation — wow, what a lesson!
It's easy to interpret this ritual as meaning we need to wash others' feet (both literally and metaphorically) - and this is true. It also means, I would assert, that we need to be receptive enough to let our own feet be washed. Peter had to learn this. So did Elinor. And so does each one of us.