Friday, December 30, 2011

Our poor flesh

Artist: Arthur Hughes
The blessed son of God only
In a crib full poor did lie;
With our poor flesh and our poor blood
Was clothed that everlasting good
The Lord Christ Jesu, God's son dear,
Was a guest and a stranger here;
Us for to bring from misery,
That we might live eternally.
All this did he for us freely,
For to declare his great mercy;
All Christendom be merry therefore,
And give him thanks for evermore.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Another implication of the Incarnation

Artist: Caravaggio

Here's something the great theologian, Karl Barth, said:
“This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before.”
I would submit that this is one reason it is important to experience Christmas in a fresh way each year. Even though we may know the old story very well indeed, we have the opportunity to see and understand in a greater way every time we celebrate this great Feast of the Incarnation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A particular kind of peace

Artist: Master of the Trebon Altarpiece

Remember, it's still Christmas, people, and will be through January 5 - Twelfth Night.
,,,there is a...kind of peace...(that) does not come either from the denial of evil or the acceptance of oppression. This kind comes from the center of us and flows through us like a conduit to the world around us. This kind of peace is the peace of those who know truth and proclaim it, who recognize oppression and refuse to accept it, who understand God’s will for the world and pursue it. This kind of peace comes with the realization that it is our obligation to birth it for the rest of the world so that what the mangers and crèches and crib sets of the world point to can become real in us—and because of us—in our own time.

Sr. Joan is definitely one of my heroes in the religious life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

One powerful implication of the Incarnation

Here is a wonderful thought to keep before us during Christmastide:
“By virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen
Image from Wikimedia Commons
"...keep knocking, and the Joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who's there."
-- Rumi

Friday, December 23, 2011

Giving Christmas away

Margret Hofheinz-Döring/ Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen

I'm offering the following largely because of the words, "exuberant armfuls". That strikes me as very wonderful image:
Let me not wrap, stack, box, bag, tie, tag, bundle, seal, keep Christmas.
Christmas kept is liable to mold.
Let me give Christmas away, unwrapped, by exuberant armfuls.
Let me share, dance, live Christmas unpretentiously, merrily,
responsibly with overflowing hands, tireless steps and sparkling eyes.
Christmas given away will stay fresh—even until it comes again.

-- Linda Felver

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Something about Christmas

Here's a delightful story:
A few years back, under a cultural exchange program, a Texan family hosted a rabbi from Russia. It was Christmas time. The family took him to a local Chinese restaurant to celebrate a traditional Jewish Christmas. At the end of the meal, the waiter brought the check and presented each of them with a small brass Christmas tree ornament. They all laughed when someone pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “Made in India”, but the Rabbi began quietly crying. The family assumed that he was offended by the focus on Christmas but he smiled and said to them, “No. I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu.”
You can find it here.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bearing God in this world

Part of a reflection by one of my favorite preachers, Kathryn Matthews Huey:
"Barbara Brown Taylor, not surprisingly, addresses with great insight the question of Mary's "choice," her freedom to respond in this most unusual situation, and our freedom as well. Yes, Taylor has said that the angel announced the impending birth and didn't ask Mary for her assent, but there is a choice for Mary, "whether to say yes to it or no, whether to take hold of the unknown life the angel held out to her or whether to defend herself against it however she could." We have a similar choice in our own lives, Taylor says: "Like Mary, our choices often boil down to yes or no: yes, I will live this life that is being held out to me or no, I will not; yes, I will explore this unexpected turn of events, or no, I will not." You can say no to your life, Taylor says, "but you can rest assured that no angels will trouble you ever again." And then she takes a bold turn that calls for courage on our part, if we say yes to our lives: "You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees. You can agree to smuggle God into the world inside your own body" ("Mothers of God" in Gospel Medicine). How are you bearing God in this world?"
I would suggest that this is probably the most important question we could ask ourselves this time of year. (Or at any time, for that matter.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Absolute; the Beloved

"The bridegroom is arising." And so it seems that the following is wonderfully appropriate for Advent:
“It is not for the concept, but for the experience, that we use the term the Beloved. The experience of this enormity we falteringly label divine is unconditioned love. Absolute openness, unbounded mercy and compassion. We use this concept, not to name the unnameable vastness of being-- our greatest joy-- but to acknowledge and claim as our birthright the wonders and healings within.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Lindy Black offers the following for Advent on her Sermon Nuggets page:
Rabbi Hugo Grynn was sent to Auschwitz as a little boy. In the midst of the concentration camp, the death and horror many Jews held onto what ever shreds of their religious observance they could. One cold winter's night Hugo's father gathered the family in the barracks. It was the first night of Chanukah...the feast of Lights. The young child watched in horror as his father took the family's last pd of butter and made a makeshift candle using a string from his ragged clothes. He then took a match and lit the "candle". "Father , no!" Hugo cried. "That butter is our last bit of food! How shall we live?"

"We can live for many days without food! We cannot live for single minute without hope. This is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here. Not anywhere."
-- Willimon

Monday, December 5, 2011

Letting God participate

Artist: Giovanni Fattori

Here's another problem with the so-called "prosperity gospel". If we only believe that God is made known in the things we want and prefer, we miss an experience of God's precense in the things that are difficult:

We can't love what we won't experience.... God enters the world through those of us who are willing to let God participate fully in our lives, in our suffering as well as our celebrations.

-- Nancy Mairs


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Waking up to oursevles

Although not overtly about John the Baptist, the following speaks to the spirit in which the Baptist preached:

Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. The prerequisite for a fulfilled Advent is a renunciation of the arrogant gestures and tempting dreams with which, and in which, man is always deceiving himself.... The shaking, the awakening: with these, life merely begins to become capable of Advent. It is precisely in the severity of this awakening, in the helplessness of coming to consciousness, in the wretchedness of experiencing our limitations that the golden threads running between Heaven and earth during this season reach us; the threads that give the world a hint of the abundance to which it is called, the abundance of which it is capable.

-- Father Alfred Delp

Jesuit priest, Alfred Delp, was imprisoned and then executed by the Nazis. On the way to his execution, he whispered, "In half an hour, I'll know more than you do," to the prison chaplain accompanying him. Amazing sense of humor at such a time!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Peace - the real thing

Artist: Nikolai Galakhov

I certainly agree with this:

"PEACE. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart."

-- unknown

Perhaps this is part of what St. Paul meant by "the peace that passes understanding".

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sleepers, wake!

If you listen carefully to the bass line, you can hear the watchman on the heights - pacing up and down.

Happy Advent, everybody!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

We plow the fields and gather...

Artist: Camille Pissarro

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The prayer of a great bishop

Artist: Philip De Laszlo

By one of my heroes, Archbishop William Temple:

O God of love, we ask you to give us love:
love in our thinking, love in our speaking, love in our doing,
and love in the hidden places of our souls;
love of our neighbours, near and far;
love of our friends, old and new;
love of those whom we find it hard to bear with us;
love of those with whom we work,
and love of those with whom we take our ease;
love in joy, love in sorrow,
love in life and love in death;
that so at length we may be worthy to dwell with you,
who are eternal Love. Amen.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Self emptying

Artist: Marie Ellenrieder
Image from Wikimedia Commons

This, by Karen Armstrong, is so wonderfully expressed:

“Theologians in all the great faiths have devised all kinds of myths to show that this type of kenosis, of self-emptying, is found in the life of God itself. They do not do this because it sounds edifying, but because this is the way that human nature seems to work. We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tell me

Artist: Tsuji Kakô

I've probably already posted this somewhere but never mind. It's by that astonishing marvel of a poet, Mary Oliver, and I truly love it. She (more than any other poet writing today, I would assert) teaches us what it means to pay attention:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where is the promise of renewal?

Artist: Fra Angelico
Image from Wikimedia commons

I can hardly imagine how things would look myself:

“If contemporary Christians took seriously the possibility that those outside the boundaries of the church might hold the promise of renewal, if we ceased regarding ourselves as the source of salvation and the secular world as a potential threat, and if we emulated Jesus' example in accepting the faith and the courage of those who live beyond conventional standards of purity, well, I can hardly imagine how things would look.”

-- Greg Carey


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Something about preparation

Artist: Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow

Some parishes will be observing All Saints today but I want to focus on the propers for Pentecost 21.

I found the following over on Lindy Black's page:
In Palestine, young couples wouldn't go away for a week-long honeymoon, instead, they would stay at their home and would have a sort of "open house" for their friends. Everyone treated the couple as royalty, the week following their wedding ceremony was undoubtedly the best week of their lives. Before the wedding, the maidens kept the bride company outside of the groom's house as she waited for him to arrive. They'd bring lamps to use while they waited because they were not allowed in the streets at night without light. Because the groom could come at any time, even at night, they had to stay and wait. No one knew exactly when he'd arrive. They didn't print invitations and invite people to come at a precise time for the wedding, it happened whenever the bridegroom came. It could be today, it could be tomorrow or it could be next week. When the bridegroom approached, a messenger would go out into the streets and declare, "Behold, the bridegroom is coming" then the maidens would accompany the bride into the house for the wedding ceremony and the week-long celebration to follow. (Barclay 354) There was a small window of opportunity to walk through the door into the house. Once the wedding began, no one else was admitted. In other words, it wasn't possible to be too early, but it was possible to be too late, you couldn't just walk in and find a seat in the back, when the door was shut, it was shut and it wouldn't be opened again. So when Jesus told this parable, His listeners had a cultural point of reference that made it come alive to them. They immediately got his point about the importance of preparation.
And I would be remiss if I didn't share this gem with you!

Back in the days when only young men prepared for pastoral ministry, a certain Dr. Eislen, president of Garrett Seminary, preached on this parable in chapel. When he reached the climax of his message, he yelled at his seminarians, "Young men, tell me, would you rather be in the light with the wise virgins, or out in the dark with the foolish virgins?" Such laughter arose that chapel was dismissed early that day!

-- Mickey Anders

If you're not familiar with the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, please go right here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Those who have gone before

Artist: Antonello da Messina

It's All Souls Day. Yesterday was All Saints Day. On both days we think about the departed about whom we care or who have influenced us in some way and for whom we're grateful.

Here's something I found that I really, really like:
Sometimes the saint is loved not simply for his closeness to God but for his patent humanity. The saint has a temper, flies off the handle, loses his or her cool in pursuit of a great ideal. St. Jerome, the first translator of the Bible into Latin, was famously irascible, once writing that one of his detractors "walked like a tortoise." To take another example, St. Peter is beloved not only because he was a great apostle, but for his many flaws: denying Jesus three times before the crucifixion, among them. Holiness makes its home in humanity. That insight says, “They’re not perfect. Maybe I could aspire to this level of achievement.”

-- James Martin
It reminds me of that wonderful hymn I learned as a child: "I sing a song of the saints of God..." that quite wonderfully ends, "And I mean to be one too."

May it be so for each one of us.

(A tip of the hat to Kirkepiscatoid)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cherishing the ordinary

Artist: Mikhail Natarevich

I've emphasized the following principle before on this blog. It bears pondering again from another writer's point of view:
The great lesson from the true mystics . . . is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one's daily life, in one's neighbors, friends, and family, in one's back yard.
— Abraham H. Maslow in Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A kind of taking stock

Artist: Paul Gauguin

I have recently come across some material about the spiritual teacher, Robert Benson. Here's something he said that speaks to me.
Sometimes letting go of a spiritual practice can be as important as adding a new one. Sometimes reshaping one to account for a new set of circumstances is needed. Sometimes there is a hole in our spiritual practice that must be filled, and we can tell it because we are beginning to run on empty.

No one knows those things unless they have a rule, formal or informal, and unless they stop to look at it from time to time and make note of what is to be found there.
Many of the people I've talked to over the years are convinced that in cultivating a spiritual and interior life we are required to take on new practices. I really like Benson's outlook here about sometimes needing to do just the opposite.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love and pain

Artist: Dmitri Minaevich Sinodi-Popov

I'm offering you something very brief today. It's by Ralph Waldo Emerson and I think it is profoundly focused and powerful. I plan to spend quite a bit of time reflecting on it because I think there's a lot being said here - a lot:

The love that you withhold is the pain that you carry.


Psalm 33 chanted

Oh, dear people. This is so pure, precise and very, very lovely:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Contemplation and solitude

"Hermit Woman"
Artist: Wojciech Gerson

Here is definitely one of my favorite sayings from the Desert Mothers:
Amma Syncletica said, "There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town; they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd; and it is possible for those who are solitaries to live in the crowd of their own thoughts."
This saying is one I rely upon when people remark to to me, "Funny; you don't look like a hermit."

I tend to answer, "When I look like a hermit, nobody sees me."

More to the point, however, is that the value of solitude is more in one's state of mind than whether one is literally (physically) around other people or not.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Looking within

Artist: Edwin Harris

The following was included in the email newsletter of the Diocese of Oklahoma. Including an "examen of consciousness" in one's daily routine is something I was taught in the convent. It's really a very powerful (and soothing) practice:
The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God's presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God's hand at work in our whole experience.

The method presented here is adapted from a technique described by Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius thought that the Examen was a gift that came directly from God, and that God wanted it to be shared as widely as possible. One of the few rules of prayer that Ignatius made for the Jesuit order was the requirement that Jesuits practice the Examen twice daily-at noon and at the end of the day. It's a habit that Jesuits, and many other Christians, practice to this day.

This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced.

1. Become aware of God's presence.

2. Review the day with gratitude.

3. Pay attention to your emotions.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

5. Look toward tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Becoming more fully human

In case anyone is not familiar with the works of Walter Wink, you can find out more about him right here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Our challenge

Artist: Nicholas Roerich

I was very influenced by Fr. John Main starting about twenty years ago or so. He was very much a major player in the revival of meditative practices in contemplative Christianity. Here's something he said that I like very much:
“...Our challenge as Christians is not to try to covert people around us to our way of belief but to love them, to be ourselves living incarnations of what we believe, to live what we believe and to love what we believe.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Walk slowly, smile, drink tea

Artist: Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Here's something that I think is really quite lovely and wise:
“From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth.”
It's by the marvelous Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another comforter

Take the time to listen to this, please, and let yourself be uplifted and consoled. It's only two minutes and ten seconds long!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

With the heart of anyone in need

Artist: László Mednyánszky
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy Day has been one of my personal heroes for many, many years now. Here's something she said that is so very pertinent today:

Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers, and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers, and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.


Monday, October 10, 2011

The need to give

The other day, I came across a book published in 1946 called Peace of Mind by Rabbi Joshua Loth Liebman. It was given to my mother by her aunt Freida for Christmas of 1948. My mom would have been pregnant with me at the time.

Here's an excerpt:
The primary joy of life is acceptance, approval, the sense of appreciation and companionship of our human comrades. Many people do not understand that the need for fellowship is really as deep as the need for food, and so they go throughout life accepting many substitutes for genuine, warm, simple relatedness....

There comes a time in the development of every ego when it must love its neighbors or become a twisted and stunted personality. The normal mature man and woman has with him a surplus "urge to give."
Man's restless yearning to give something of himself, whether it be a physical child or a spiritual child - the child of his mind - a bridge, a poem, a song, an invention, a cure of disease - is the true answer to all cynics and pessimists who maintain that man is total selfishness.
I think I'm going to read the whole book. It's dated, yes. But it seems to contain a lot of wisdom.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Under the weather...

So sorry for the lack of posting. I'm down with a really bad cold, I'm sorry to say, and will be back to normal posting when I'm feeling a bit better.

Take care, everyone!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

God and the human mind

I think both of these by W. Tozer are worthy of considerable reflection:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
If God gives you a watch, are you honoring Him more by asking Him what time it is or by simply consulting the watch?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Greening the desert; scaling the mountain

I was very influenced by Elizabeth O'Connor during the period in which I was attempting to discern whether or not to enter the religious life. Here's something quite wonderful that she said:
Every single one of us has a good work to do in life. This good work not only accomplishes something needed in the world, but completes something in us. When it is finished, a new work emerges that will help make green a desert place as well as scale another mountain inside ourselves.
I don't think by "good work to do in life" she means anything particularly grand as the world would evaluate such work. It can be very hidden indeed or really quite simple. Nevertheless, that good work is something that is truly needed and something that helps us grow interiorly as well.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

St. Michael and All Angels

Here's another re-post for your edification:

St Michael, 12th-century mosaic

Remember Maslow's hierachy of needs? They are ususally depicted on a pyramid with our most basic requirements for survival and well being at the bottom. Maslow hypothesized that we must get those foundational needs met before we can access the motivation to address the higher ones such as self-actualization and self-transcendence.

After the physiological needs of food, air, water and the like, our most fundamental need is safety. And here's where St. Michael and All Angels come in to the picture. In addition to being messengers, they are protectors - especially Michael himself. We need the assurance of protection, the assurance that our safety matters (not only to ourselves but to the Most High), in order to do the kind of spiritual work that will enable us to be courageously compassionate and faithful to the end. God knows this. The Church knows this. And so we have today's feast.

My favorite safety prayer is the ancient exorcism from the office of Compline:
Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy. Let your Holy Angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace and let your blessing be upon us always. Amen.
Here's what I want to recommend. Get some holy water (or make it yourself; I think water can be "dedicated" as well as "blessed"). Then walk through your house sprinkling a little water against every window and door reciting the prayer above as you go. It's a wonderful space clearing exercise and, if you let it, will give you a sense of being truly cherished by all the spiritual beings that inhabit creation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A very interesting observation about love

Artist: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The following passage is by Howard Thurman. It's something to think about the next time we are faced with hostility or indifference in another person:
Here is a mystery: If sweeping through the door of my heart there moves continually a genuine love for you, it by-passes all your hate and all your indifference and gets through to you at your center. You are powerless to do anything about it. You may keep alive in devious ways the fires of your bitter heart, but they cannot get through to me. Underneath the surface of all the tension, something else is at work. It is utterly impossible for you to keep another from loving you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Genuine love for one another

Artist: Van Gogh

Do you love someone only to find yourself trying to change that person? Take a look at this observation:

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

It is very hard to be the one who is twisted to conform to another's image. And there is nothing more wonderful than to be loved for oneself. Looking for our own reflection in another, however, can stem from an unhealthy degree of narcissism.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An unsettling gospel

Artist: Alessandro Allori
Image from Wikimedia Commons

One of my heroes said this. I refer, of course, to Oscar Romero:
A church that doesn't provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone's skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed - what gospel is that? Very nice, pious considerations that don't bother anyone, that's the way many would like preaching to be. Those preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed, so as not to have conflicts and difficulties, do not light up the world they live in.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Valuing all the great religions

Artist: Jan van Eyck

The quotation I have for you this evening is sadly controversial. Fundamentalism is rampant in our world today and fundamentalists of every stripe believe that those who follow a faith other than their own are damned. I know that there are traditionalist members of my own church who would brand me a heretic for saying I agree with these words of Gandhi and yet I will say it anyway. We need to mature past the desire to feel secure that we're "in" by knowing that other people are "out".

I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God-given and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoints of the followers of these faiths, we should find that they were at bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.

- MK Gandhi

Adherents of different faith traditions can come together with great success through meditation. The mind works the way the mind works. This is true for all of us regardless of our belief system.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Becoming human -- and free

Artist: Nikolai Galakhov

A book that certainly has influenced me as prfoundly as any other is Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl who survived his incarceration in one of the Nazi concentration camps. Here's a brief passage:

One day, a few days after the liberation, I walked through the country past flowering meadows, for miles and miles, toward the market town near the camp. Larks rose to the sky and I could hear their joyous song. There was no one to be seen for miles around; there was nothing but the wide earth and sky and the larks' jubilation and the freedom of space.

I stopped, looked around, and up to the sky--and then I went down on my knees. At that moment there was very little I knew of myself or of the world--I had but one sentence in mind--always the same: "I called to the Lord from my narrow prison and he answered me in the freedom of space."

How long I knelt there and repeated this sentence memory can no longer recall. But I know that on that day, in that hour, my new life started. Step for step I progressed, until I again became a human being.

Perhaps it would be valuable for all of us to ask just what it would take - step by step - to become a human being. There are, after all, so many dehumanizing experiences that take place in almost everyone's life.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Free will and religion

Christ the True Vine (16th Century icon)
Image from Wikimedia Commons

I do wish this were more widely understood among those who try to force or pressure others to practice Christianity:

Religion is not to be defended by putting to death, but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. Not by guilt, but by good faith. For the former belongs to evil, the latter to the good... For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, tortures, and guilt, it will no longer be defended. Rather, it will be polluted and profaned. For nothing is so much a matter of free will as religion. If the mind of the worshiper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away and ceases to exist...

We (Christians), on the contrary, do not require that anyone should be compelled to worship our God, whether he is willing or unwilling.

Nor do we become angry if anyone does not worship Him. We trust in the majesty of Him who has the power to avenge contempt shown towards Him.

We leave vengeance to God. We do not act as those persons who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, who rage without restraint against those who do not worship them.

-- Lactantius (about 260 -340 C.E.)


Friday, September 9, 2011

The healing stream of the spirit

Detail of 16th Century cucifix in Ravensburg
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Years ago a cynical friend of mine and I happened to wander inside a small chapel that had a reputation for being very beautiful. Above and behind the altar was a life sized and very moving (to my mind) crucifix. My friend shuddered as she looked at it and said derisively, "You Christians worship suffering."

Now, I'm usually pretty tongue-tied in situations like that but this time some grace gave me the following: "No; we worship a God whose love stops at nothing - even this."

She was silent for a moment and then kind of snorted: "Well! You ought to put a sign next to every crucifix, then, explaining it!"

Here's something to ponder with regard to what the cross is all about:

It is the suffering already present in the world which we can either ignore or identify with. If pain were not real, if it were not the lot of so many, the way of the cross would be pathological. But in our world with its hungry and homeless and hopeless, it is pathological to live as if pain did not exist. The way of the cross means letting pain carve one's life into a channel through which the healing stream of the spirit can flow to a world in need.

-- Parker Palmer

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not a tame Christ

Thirteenth century fresco

Something that has disturbed me for a long time now is the Church's tendency to domesticate the gospel, to offer a "safe" Christ - safe in a tame way, I mean. Richard Rohr will have none of that. I suppose that's a core reason I've respected him and his ministry for so many years now:

"Jesus truly was dangerous. He was creating a following with a kind of thinking that was much more on the side of inclusiveness than exclusiveness.... Jesus is always moving the boundaries out while still respecting the center. That's the key to wisdom: being grounded in the center and still, from that deep foundation, knowing how to move out."


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Worth and worthiness - the paradox

"St. Martin and the Beggar" - El Greco

Today's society - in the United States at any rate - is very caught up with the idea of personal and individual worthiness. Many of us believe that we shouldn't assist anyone who isn't worthy of being assisted according to our own understanding of what that means. Such an approach is not, however, the Christian way:

"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can."

-- Thomas Merton

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The dreaming and the wanting

Many, many years ago (I was a teenager, probably) I learned from the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke to love questions more than answers. Here is one of his poems:
I am, you anxious one.

Don’t you sense me, ready to break into being at your touch?
My murmurings surround you like shadowy wings.
Can’t you see me standing before you cloaked in stillness?
Hasn’t my longing ripened in you from the beginning
as fruit ripens on a branch?

I am the dream you are dreaming.
When you want to awaken, I am that wanting.
I grow strong in the beauty you behold.
And with the silence of stars I enfold your cities made by time.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Praying in Christ's name

I'm offering you another re-post this evening. It happens to be one of my favorites:

I've always been bothered by what has seemed to me to be an almost supersitious need to tack on "in Christ's name" at the end of prayers as if were some sort of incantation. It is eroneous to believe that we are required to do this as Christians so that in an interfaith setting we feel we must impose certain language on non-Christians. The following expresses my views on this subject wonderfully:

Many people have a very strangely childish notion, that "praying in the name of Christ" means simply the addition of the words "through Jesus Christ our Lord" at the end of their prayers. But depend upon it, they do not by adding these words, or any words, bring it about that their prayers should be in the name of Christ. To pray in the name of Christ means to pray in such a way as represents Christ. The representative always must speak in the spirit and meaning of those for whom he speaks. If Christ is our representative, that must be because He speaks our wishes, or what we ought to make our wishes; and if we are to pray in the name of Christ, that means that we are, however far off, expressing His wishes and intentions.

-- Charles Gore

Friday, September 2, 2011

Self-revealing activity of God

"Still Life with Bible"
Artist: Vincent van Gogh

The following is not a new idea, of course, to people who visit this site. However it is wonderfully articulated in this paragraph:

Literalism gets its name from its insistence that what we find in the Bible is not just the Word of God but the very words of God. The distinction is of tremendous importance. The phrase "Word of God" as used in the Bible itself, notably in the opening sentences of the Fourth Gospel, is an English translation of a Greek word, Logos, which was in wide use among philosophers at the time the New Testament was written. It connotes the creative, outgoing, self-revealing activity of God. The Logos was not a particular divine utterance, but God's overall message to mankind. It was not necessarily communicated verbally in speech or writing. Indeed, the whole point of Christianity is that the supreme communication of the Word took place when it was expressed through a human life and personality in Jesus Christ.

-- Louis Cassels

I remember reading somewhere that the sacred syllable "Om" is used for that Greek word "Logos" when the New Testament is translated into Sanskrit. Here's a sentence I just found on the web:
"Yet another interpretation equates Om with the Greek, “logos,” “the word”, found at the beginning of St John’s gospel."
You can find it right here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A steady illumination

Artist: Poul Friis Nybo

The explanation of how the words "prayer" and "precarious" are related is what prompted me to want to share the following with you:
“Precarious” comes from the same Latin root as the word “prayer.” Here prayer does not mean pleading with a distant deity who may or may not pay attention. It may not even be a request at all. Prayer in this sense means rather that we reconnect with the very Source from which we come. We open the eyes of our heart to the inner light abiding in everything. We feel connected to this Source – through a hovering hummingbird, a toddler’s giggle, the aroma of fresh-baked bread – yet in a flicker, the connection seems gone and we are plunged into grief. This teaches us to let go, courageously, again and again. None of us would have the heart for this task if we did not begin to see that the light has a steady presence in spite of appearances. With joy we realize that the radiance we glimpse flows steadily and illumines all creation in an everlasting glow.
This is from a marvelous essay called Grief/Joy on the site.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Rejoice, O Virgin

Ah! Just let yourself be cradled by this soothing and gorgeous music.

Rejoice O Virgin, Theotokos [God-bearer],
Mary full of grace, the Lord is with You.
Blessed are You among women,
and blessed is the Fruit of Your womb,
for You have borne the Savior of our souls.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A prayer for us all

Here's another re-post for you. (Different art work though.) Somehow, this seems to fit with what I posted yesterday:

Quite a number of years ago, someone gave me a prayer on a little card that seemed just right for me. I was deeply moved by it and taped it to a bookcase in my office so that I could see it often. Later, I came across it on line. Here's the prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
It is, of course, by Thomas Merton from his wonderful book, Thoughts in Solitude.

An editorial review on Amazon says this about the book:
What has made this book such an enduring and popular work is that it recognizes how important solitude is to our morality, integrity, and ability to love. One does not have to be a monk to find solitude, notes Merton; solitude can be found in the act of contemplation and silent reflection in everyday life. Also, this is not a pious book that assumes that a relationship with the divine can be obtained only by denying our humanity and striving for saintliness. Instead, Merton asserts that connection with God can most easily be made through "respect for temperament, character, and emotion and for everything that makes us human."
Sadly, a lot of common approaches to Christian formation do suggest that we need to deny our humanity in order to please God. Of course, paradoxically, that has the effect of making us more self-conscious rather than less. Making friends with ourselves is an important first step on the spiritual path. Think about it. Why would we give a self that we hate as an offering to God? I actually like that old T-shirt that says, "God doesn't make junk". So do remember this wonderful saying of Irenaeus: "The glory of God is the human being fully alive!"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A spacious environment

This is a repeat from a while back. But I think it is actually quite timely given the political and religious climate of today. And so I offer it again.

It has grieved me for some time now that the fundamentalist expression of Christianity has held sway in the public imagination and has conditioned many people in our society to believe that Christianity is all about condemning others and controlling its own. And so I really loved this quotation when I stumbled upon it - particularly the last sentence:

There are a number of Hebrew words about salvation which also mean "to bring into a spacious environment", "to be at one's ease", "to be free to develop". "Salvation" can be seen then as the new life in Christ, in which we are to be "free to develop" into Christ-like people. For this maturing to take place, there needs to be a breaking down of barriers, a breaking up of the soil of our personalities, and a healing of inner wounds and hurts. The soil is softened, the clay becomes malleable through the experience of the tender love of God and the accepting, non-judgmental love of Christians. We cannot be beaten into shape.

--Michael Harper

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why certainty is not really an option

Artist: Gentile da Fabriano

Truly among the more helpful things C.S. Lewis ever said:
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask - half our great theological and metaphysical problems - are like that.
Therefore, I would assert that it behooves us not to become too attached to our theological constructs. From our limited viewpoint, we can't really know if they actually make any sense or not.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Speaking rightly

Artist: Simon Ushakov

Yes, it's a paradox:

Teaching about Christ begins in silence.... In so far as the Church proclaims the Word, it falls down silently in truth before the inexpressible: 'In silence I worship the unutterable' (Cyril of Alexandria). The spoken Word is the inexpressible; this unutterable is the Word.... Although it is cried out by the Church in the world, it remains the inexpressible. To speak of Christ means to keep silent; to keep silent about Christ means to speak. When the Church speaks rightly out of a proper silence, then Christ is proclaimed.

This was said by the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer.