Friday, December 26, 2008
Merry 2nd Day of Christmas!
Just this morning I read a profound reflection on hope, an article in the December 19 issue of Commonweal by Jerry Ryan about the poetry of Charles Peguy. I spent some time reflecting on it. It is so rich I intend to return to it. Ryan is quoting and paraphrasing Peguy's "The Porch of the Mystery of the Second Virtue" and much of what follows are almost direct quotes from Ryan's article.
The poem begins "The Faith that I like best, says God, is Hope." Hope is like a little girl who constantly astonishes God. Faith and charity one can understand. How can anyone who has seen the wonders of nature not believe? And charity is almost natural: to be distressed by the sufferings of others is part of our makeup. But hope is unexplainable. How can anyone seeing how things have gone today and the day before and the day before that still go to bed thinking that all will be different tomorrow? Hope astonishes even God. Faith sees things as they are, charity loves things as they are, but hope sees and loves what will be.
We get faith and charity. They are like hope's two elder sisters, the practical ones who have business to attend to, who seem to be dragging their little sister along. But it is really Hope who is dragging her sisters along, for without her they would be a couple of old women going nowhere. Like a child, hope keeps running up ahead and then back to her sisters to make them follow her. For hope every road is always new, every day a new adventure.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, Love Divine
Love was born at Christmas
"Find an Infant" was the sign.
(with apologies somewhat
to Christina Rossetti)
The angel tells the shepherds, "You will find and Infant wraped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."
The Infant in the manger is the Sign, the Sacrament of God's Love for us, Divine Love in the Flesh. And the really Good News is that God is Gracious Love, Freely Given Love, Love that we don't have to earn.
"When the kindness and love of God our Savior dawned upon us, it was not because of any good works that we ourselves had done; it was for no reason except God's own faithfu love that God saved us." (Titus 3:4)
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
O Emmanuel is today's antiphon and the final one. "el" at the end of Hebrew word means "God." "Bethel" means "House of God." "Michael" is "Who is like God." "Emmanuel" means "God with us." When King Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign Isaiah says, "The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and name him Emmanuel." (7:14)
That God is in me and in the people and things around me is the heart of my spirituality at this point in my life and, especially during this Advent. We pray that we will become more aware of this Divine Presence and better able to surrender to IT.
"O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God."
(This is a picture of one of five small villages referred to as "Cinque Terre" which are a United Nations Heritage Sight. I can't remember the name of this particular village. I was struck by how the church was right in the middle of things. The fishing boats were tied up there and we swam between them and the church. In the evening men and boys together played soccer on the beach while many watched.)
Friday, December 19, 2008
"O Root of Jesse" is today's antiphon. Jesse, who lived in Bethlehem, was the father of King David, whose dynasty finally came to an end with the Babylonian Exile in 586 BC. Around that time the prophet Isaiah said, "But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom (11:1)." Even though the family tree has been cut down, a shoot will grow out of the stump (many shoots in this picture). Someday a descendant of Jesse's will continue the royal line. Luke in his Gospel tells us "So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David's town called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and line of David." (Luke 2:4)
The Latin antiphon is addressed to the "Root of Jesse," but it is really the shoot growing out of the root that we are praying to, so let's try:
"O Blossom from the root of Jesse,
you have sprung up as a sign for all peoples.
Kings stand silent in your presence.
The nations bow down in worship before you.
Come quickly to free us."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
"O Adonai" is today's antiphon. Moses experienced God in the Burning Bush and God told him to go and help the Israelites to escape from Egypt. Moses then said to God, "Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?" God said to Moses,"I AM WHO I AM." (Exodus 3:13-14) The Hebrew letters for this in our alphabet are YHWH and scholars think it was pronounced YAHWEH. Sometime after the Babylonian Exile (6th century BC) as what we now call Judaism was developing, devout Jews stopped saying God's proper name out loud. Instead they substituted other words, one of which was the Hebrew "Adonai" which means "Lord."
I am impressed that those who wrote the O Antiphons many centuries ago showed the same respect. It's not a bad idea. It helps us to realize how illusive God is, beyond any name we can come up with. I think that God's response to Moses was really a refusal to be named.
"O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
you showed yourself to Moses in the Burning Bush.
You gave him the holy law on Mount Sinai.
Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free."
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Like children we begin today a countdown to Christmas with the "O Antiphons." We are most familiar with these as the basis for the Advent hymn, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Today we invite Wisdom. It is remarkable in the male dominated society of ancient Israel that Wisdom is personified as a woman. "Strongly she reaches from one end of the world to the other and she orders all things well (Wisdom 8:1). "Wisdom speaks her own praises....'I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and I covered the earth like a mist (Sirach 24:1&3).
Wisdom shows us that God is the center of all that is. She teaches us how to do the right thing at the right time.
"O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me.
Speaking words of wisdom,
Let it be.
With these words the Beatles come to us speaking words of wisdom for Advent as we reflect on Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). The young girl is frightened and confused at what the angel says God wants her to do, but in the end she surrenders herself to God's will with these words, "You see before you the Lord's servant; let it be with me as you have said."
The same surrender can be ours as we find ourselves in these darkening days of winter and the world. Our "Let it be" brings "our peace in his will."
This picture is the courtyard of the cathedral on St. Vincent in the Caribbean, a far cry from the heavy snow we are experiencing as I write.o
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Joan of Arcadia was a TV series a few years back. Like Joan of Arc, this Joan hears voices but they have bodies attached to them. She sees God in various strangers who identify themselves as God and ask her to do some task. God might be a cute high school boy or a little girl or a janitor or a grandmotherly woman. Joan never knows and so she's sometimes wondering whether this or that character might identify himself or herself as God.
As I watched the show I found myself also wondering whether this or that character would turn out to be God. Then it gradually occured to me that God was present and working in many of the characters even if they do not identify themselves as God. God is in Joan herself, in her family and group of friends, and in many of the other people who figure in the episodes. I could see how God was working in them to bring about some good and how something that one of them did influenced others and started a chain of good.
I have been watching the two seasons again on DVD. I find them valuable Advent reflections on Emmanuel, God-With-Us.
The kids in the picture are in Honolulu. They have God shining out of their bright faces.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I have been in love with this particular apparition of Mary since I read an account of it by John Steinbeck in a book of short stories when I was in college. On many islands of the Caribbean I have come across pictures of it, even in the most unexpected places, such as a shop where you could rent snorkling equipment. It is significant that Mary appeared as an Amerindian, expressing her solidarity with the poor natives of Mexico. I also like the fact that she appeared on the site of a pagan shrine, a place already holy. As the story ends, just when you think that the miracle that the bishop asked for is the roses in a desert in December, Juan Diego's cloak reveals the image of Our Lady.
It is an image that adds to Advent hope.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"There is one among you whom you do not recognize," says John the Baptist (John 1:26). He is referring to Jesus whom the people of his time do not yet know. His sentence also helps me to be more aware of the Presence of the Holy One in my life. Advent is a time not only to remember God-With-Us in a manger long ago, but also to reflect on God-With-Us right here, right now.
God-With-Us in creations of stained glass and light, like this one from the artist Dale Chihuly's exhibit last year in Pittsburgh. God-With-Us in movies like Juno and Enchanted. God-With-Us in the mystical music of Messiaen. God-With-Us in winter snow and summer sun and autumn trees and spring flowers. God-With-Us in all those who love us and in all those who need our love.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
"Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God," cries Isaiah the prophet and repeats John the Baptist. I remember years ago reading a book about prayer that said our job was to clear away the debris in front of us and God would do the rest. Sister Wendy in her helpful little book on prayer says over and over "Prayer is God's work."
Really even preparing the way is God's work also. We can do nothing without the Almighty and so we count on God to help us clear away the debris and settle down. The more I do centering prayer the more I see it as simply letting God know that I want to get out of his way so he can keep on making me more aware of his Presence and keep on making me more loving. My job is just to let it happen.
On this feast of St. Nicholas at 8 o'clock in the morning I saw these three deer on my west neighbor's lawn. Then they went down on the shore and past my yard. By the time I got my camera and took this picture from my bedroom they were in front of my east neighbor's yard. They look too skinny to be of much use pulling a sleigh.
They are probably looking for water rather than St. Nicholas. What looks like water behind them is the Lake which froze during the night. This is the third or fourth time this year that it froze on a still night with the temperature in the teens. This is the first time I have ever seen deer in front of my house.
At 8 o'clock yesterday morning (maybe 8 AM has become the Magic Hour) I saw about six white birds, gulls or terns maybe, circling and landing on the yet unfrozen Lake. I laughed and said out loud, "You better keep on moving south!" In the next two or three minutes about thirty more birds floated down out of the sky like big snow flakes and settled on the Lake, huddling beside their buddies. Within an hour they were gone.
Both deer and birds a peaceful Advent surprise.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
About 8 o'clock this morning I saw this rainbow. This is the best picture I could get of it. The rainbow was not vivid but it was not this faint. I can't recall seeing a rainbow here in the morning. A symbol of hope?
Advent in the season of hope. I have had times in my life when hope was all that got me through. Hope is needed only when our reason tells us that there is no solution, no way out, no way to get this act together. Hope is clearly aware that we are totally dependent on God. It is like adoration with an eye to the future. With this kind of hope-filled adoration we can deal with whatever desperate situation comes our way.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
On this Thanksgiving I am first of all grateful that I have Someone to thank. On TV I see people trying to give thanks but unable or unwilling to mention Divine Love who is the source of all that we are and have and do.
I thank our Father for Jesus and for the Church without which I would not know Jesus.
I thank God for Barack Obama and for the turn our country has taken.
I thank the Holy One for family and friends who make me happy and keep me grounded.
I thank the Eternal One for the forty years that we have owned this Lake house and for all the people who have been happy here through the years and for the solitude that it now provides me.
I thank the Holy Spirit for movies and music and art and for the exciting things I am learning about the Old Testament.
I thank our Creator for sunshine and snow and woods and flowers and the Lake and streams and mountains and these hills where I be-long.
Finally I thank my Friend for living in me and loving me and making me more aware and more loving and for the gifts of peace and joy that flow from Gracious Love.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
This is the view of my driveway that greeted me as I opened the door to go for my morning walk. It was snowing when I got back from a trip yesterday at 2:30 PM and was still snowing when I went to bed at 11:30 PM. There was a very fine snow falling as I walked. I hear we got about ten inches. School was cancelled.
I really love the snow, walking in it and looking at it. It brings a kind of silence and peace that is unique and calls me to stillness and prayer.
Friday, November 14, 2008
As I began my morning walk I was walking towards the sun. We had had rain but no wind. Droplets of water were clinging to tree limbs and were sparkling in the sunshine. The barren branches were transformed into glistening silver. I kept stopping and taking pictures.
On my way home with the sun behind me, the forest magic was gone. Disappointed, I turned around to look at the woods again and all was glistening silver once more. Only with the sun shining through them were the droplets visible. I began to walk backwards so I could be facing the sun and the magic it worked.
I thought of the Light of the World living in me and transforming me. I thought of that same Light transforming everyone in the world and of my inability to notice the Divine shining out of so many of them. It is prayer and contemplation that turns me around to face the Light and see God glistening in everyone and everything.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
I have been studying the Old Testament lately, those books of the Bible that are sacred to Jews as well as Christians. To understand these Scriptures as well as I can, I have been using a Jewish Study Bible.
The most impressive insight so far is that roughly the first two-thirds of the Bible was gathered together, edited, and organized around the time of the Babylonian Exile (586 BC)to help the people deal with the exile. By the way they organized the material, the "editors" tried to show that throughout Israelite history there was a pattern of dislocation and restoration, exile and return, God's judgment and God's forgiveness. God gifts the people, they disobey, they lose God's gift, God forgives them and restores them, not because of anything they have done, but because of Who God Is.
We can see this pattern in our own lives. God gives us everything good. We disobey and turn away. We lose God's gift. God forgives us and gifts us again, not because of who we are but because of Who God Is. Being able to see all these books as a whole with the one message of God's grace and freely given mercy has enriched my relationship with God immensely.
(I took this picture a few years ago in Canyon De Chelly, New Mexico. Since I have never been to the Holy Land I was trying to find something desert-like.)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I'm just back from Delaware where many trees still have autumn leaves, stark constrast to here in the mountains, where trees are bare and weeds are brown and frost is taking over. As I walked this morning I was remembering Judy Collins' song, "The Fallow Way." Here are just a few stanzas:
I'll learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in the storm
And freezes all the little brooks....
I'll learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumn's blaze and burn
I'll know the feel of still, deep roots....
The crystal times, the silence times
I'll learn to love their quiet breath
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow time....
A field is left fallow when it is left unplanted, an opportunity for the soil to replenish itself. We can learn to love the fallow time when cold pulls us inside and winter draws us down into ourselves, deeper into the Divine.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
I let myself get too busy during October. Not even half a hermit. Saying yes to too many committments without realizing that some of them would all come together at one time. November 1 was the beginning of the new year for the Celts, so I want to start new, giving some good time to prayer and reflection. "Life is a series of new beginnings," we were told over and over again in our college days.
November is usually my least favorite month here in these mountains. Trees get bare. Snow hasn't arrived yet to stay and make the world peaceful and beautiful. There are often gray days. Maybe the less attractive outside will help me to turn more inward.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Halloween owes its origin to the Celtic belief that on this night the dead return and spend time with their families around the hearth they knew in this life, enjoying their favorite food and drink. Remarkably the people of Mexico had a similar ancient belief about the next night, the night between November 1 and 2.
Ann Roy moved from the United States to Mexico. In 1995 she wrote an article in Commonweal about her experiences with the Mexican customs surrounding "The Day of the Dead." She called the article "A Crack Between The Worlds: The Mexican Way of Death." At first she found these customs frightening, but a neighbor helped her to understand that these practices remind us "that we are all mortal, and that the living are not really separated from the dead at all: life and death ar one single, never-ending continuity." The author then tells the following story:
Some years later we moved to Tepoztlan, Morelos--the pre-Aztec mountain village renowned for its powerful magical traditions--and an ancient Tepozteca neighbor came to tell me about the "crack between the worlds" that opens up there soon after midnight on Novermber first, and is held open for one mystical hour by the concerted ringing of all the church bells in the valley. She explained that she was telling me about this opportunity well ahead of time so that I could complete all the necessary preparations and be quietly ready to call and receive my own dead when this precious moment arrived--when all the bells began to toll softly together. I would have to be prepared early, she said, because my dead had so much farther to come--all the way from the United States!
"Some people not from here feel afraid at this time," she added. "But that is only because they do not understand. No one with any sense is going to call back people they disliked or feared. Why waste such a wonderful opportunity to be together with those we love? So it is only our loved ones we call, and during that time when the bells hold the door open, this valley is filled with the powerful, loving presence of many souls. They embrace us and we them, and we are all together again, for a while."
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Just when I had resigned myself to the fact that the dying leaves were just going to get uglier, four inches of snow created contrasts that took my breath away with their beauty. A fierce wind the night before last blew snow up against the north-west side of all the tree trunks. These straight streaks of white made the fading gold and rust and green and red stand out in a new display.
Just when we think our lives are simply going to get uglier and more desperate, some grace breaks through and transforms what looked like dying into joy and new life.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
32 degrees this morning when I went for my walk. No wind, so it didn't feel too bad. Some frost, as you can see in the picture. Nature is such a tease. A week ago it was autumn glory with temperatures in the low 80's. Today the trees looked wrecked and rusted. The scent of dead and dying leaves takes me back to childhood and a fall walk in the woods with my mother and father or a wade through knee-deep leaves on Main Street's sidewalk. Maybe more than any sense, smell calls up memories.
Friday, October 17, 2008
This picture and the one I used yesterday are from a few days ago when we had sunshine. Yesterday rain and today overcast have brought us cold weather, more like what's expected this time of year.
One of the things that I became aware of only when I started living here full time was that the evergreens shed dead needles this time of year. Yesterday morning's wind was causing them to fall almost like a light snow They pile up along the sides of the road and in some places cover the whole road. They are kind of a tan color and fun to walk through and fragrant. The trees still have green needles on them which I suppose are newly grown. I had always presumed that "evergreens" kept the same green needles forever. Again "To live is to change."
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Well, the wind came during the night. Many trees this morning are completely bare. Lots more leaves on the ground, some drifted now by the wind. As I neared the end of my walk, a slight mist began falling. It is now a thick mist. Today's rain and wind will bring down many more leaves.
Here is a quote from Annie Dillard in her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that amuses me. I don't know whether Mother Nature would find it equally amusing: "Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance!...This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent."