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.