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.