Thursday, December 30, 2010
6th Day of Christmas, continuing to savor and reflect on the Mystery of Christmas.
This silver freeze from early winter is an epiphany. God was always present in this tree and the space beyond, but the ice shows us the Divine, calls our attention to the Presence. The Greek "phan" in Epiphany is also in celophane which "shows" us what's inside a package.
We need signs and reminders of Divine Presence. The star was the sign for the Magi, so persuasive that they went out of their way to follow it "from the east." Our sign may well be the stars on a crystal clear winter night or a full moon on the winter solstice. Our star may be some extraordinary act of kindness or the jabbering of an infant. Whatever calls our attention to the Divine that is always present whether we notice or not.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
4th day of Christmas. Four colly birds, whatever they are. I forget.
I want to keep reflecting on Christmas during these 12 Days. The most revealing thought for me this year is God moving through dimensions we cannot imagine to become one of us. God so loved the world that God was willing to go to any lengths to hold the entire human race in his warm embrace. I have often used the quote, "Love came down at Christmas," but I don't think of God coming "down." Maybe "breaking through" from some other dimension is a more apt analogy. Behind it all is a Love that makes me gasp in wonder.
A brilliant day like today makes me think of God sort of "leaking through" from that other dimension. I took this picture right after the Lake froze two weeks ago, but it looks a lot like today, except we have more snow on the ground.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Being in the cave at Bethlehem where Jesus was born brought home to me more vividly than ever what a stretch it was for God to become a human being. I don't have words or concepts adequate to capture the distance. It's as if I might choose to become a gnat, except the gap between divine and human is a billion, trillion times greater than that. The Almighty, Ultimate Reality, the Lord of the Universe, humbled himself to become a human being like us, and humbled himself still further to be born in the back of a rough cave.
Part of the mystery of Christmas: God moving through dimensions we cannot imagine to become one of us.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Even though this cave is in Galilee, the guide used it to explain to us the cave where Jesus was born. He said that the people lived in the front part of the cave which is higher than the back part. The animals lived in the lower back part (of course it did not have columns.) There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the upper front part of the cave, so they were put in the lower back part with the animals. The guide pointed out that Luke in Greek uses the same word, "katalyma," for the space that had no room for Mary and Joseph and also for the space where Jesus arranged to eat the Last Supper with his disciples. Interesting that we sometimes speak of the the Last Supper taking place in the "Upper Room." I wondered whether this meant the Jesus and his disciples ate in the upper front part of a cave!
Because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in this front space, Luke says that the newborn baby was laid in a manger, an action he mentions three times in his brief account of the birth. The manger with hay in it for the animals would have been a rock shelf on the wall or a free standing trough. Ray Brown in his commentary, "The Birth of the Messiah," thinks that Luke wants to remind his readers of Isaiah 1:3 in which God complains, "The ox knows its owner; and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me; my people has not understood me." Now here in Bethlehem, Brown suggests, God's people have begun to know the manger of their Lord.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
A bookmark I got from the Ministry of the Arts has on it a joy-filled picture of snow falling on a person, head bent back, saying, "Opening my mouth to the snowing sky, I receive communion."
The quote on the bottom half of the card is from Mechthild of Magdeburg:
"The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw - and knew I saw - all things in God and God in all things."
Monday, December 13, 2010
Matthew 1:18-25 tells us about Joseph's reluctance to take Mary home as his wife after he finds out that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. What proves fruitful for prayer for me in the passage are the names for the child. The angel tells Joseph he is to name the child Jesus (Hebrew is Jehoshua) which means "Yahweh saves," because he is the one who will save his people from their sins. The pilgrimage to Galilee brought home to me very forcefully the humanity of Jesus. God really did take on our full human nature to save all humanity.
Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah who says that the child will be called "Emmanuel," which means "God-with-us." This name is repeated over and over again in my favorite Advent hymn and has always seemed to me so full of promise. I find it striking that Matthew repeats this promise at the end of his Gospel as Jesus says, "I am with you always." In Zefferelli's film "Jesus of Nazareth" he has the risen Jesus speaking these same words to his disciples in a very intimate atmosphere. It is deeply moving as the actor speaks them directly into the camera, directly to the viewer.
God within us and in others and in everything in our beautiful world is the heart of what Jesus means to me.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Today's freezing rain has confined me to the house. It's not as pretty as this freeze we had a few weeks ago.
It has given me time to meditate on Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast is today. I have been attracted to these appearances since I read a short story about them many years ago by John Steinbeck.
On December 9, 1531, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, on a hill in what is now the outskirts of Mexico City. What is so winning about her appearance if that she looks like an Indian, same features and olive skin.
She asked Juan Diego to go to the bishop and tell him that she wanted a temple built in her honor on the spot where she appeared. The bishop did not believe him. Once more Our Lady sent him. This time the bishop asked for a sign.
Our Lady appeared a third time on December 12 and told Juan Diego to gather in his cloak the roses of Castile fresh and lovely growing in a place where roses could not grow and blooming in a frosty month when roses do not bloom. She arranged the roses in his cloak and sent him to the bishop.
When he reached the bishop, Juan Diego said, "Here is the sign," and he released the corners of his cloak, and the roses uncrushed and unwilted fell to the floor. And then the bishop saw the cloak of Juan Diego and he got to his knees. On the rough cloak of the Indian Juan Diego was the image of Our Lady.
That cloak with the image on it is kept in the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Under that title Mary is honored as the patroness of the Americas. I have seen pictures and statues of this image not only in Mexico and in our country but all over the Caribbean islands in dive shops and restaurants as well as churches. By having Mary appear as an Amerindian, God has shown his loving care for people of all races and has opened our hearts to share that love with every human being.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
After three days our pilgrimage left Jerusalem and dropped about 3,000 feet to Jericho, which at 1,200 feet below sea level is the lowest spot on earth. Through complicated checkpoints our bus crossed the Jordan River into the country of Jordan. We had to change buses and drivers and guides. Then we walked a hot, dusty trail to this spot on the River where John baptized Jesus. I stooped and scooped water over my head three times and felt cooled and close to Jesus.
In Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist is harsh and threatening as he demands, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." In Matthew 11:1-12 he sends disciples from prison to ask Jesus if he is the one John has been expecting. John has been expecting a Messiah who will be the agent of God's wrath and retribution. By echoing Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus shows John that he is initiating the messianic era, but with saving miracles and concern for the poor.
The rule of God which Jesus inaugurates is powered by God's gracious love. Mark and Luke call it "the kingdom of God." Matthew, following the Jewish practice of substituting some metaphor for God's holy name, calls it "the kingdom of Heaven." They are all talking about God's ruling the world with an overwhelming love.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
This is Korea's contribution to the depictions of Mary in the courtyard of the Church of the Annunciation.
The Greek that Luke uses in his account of the angel's greeting to Mary means "Rejoice, O favored one." Raymond Brown, in his commentary points out that the Hebrew name Hannah means "favored one." The "Magnificat," the song that Mary sings when she visits Elizabeth echoes the song that Hannah sings in the Old Testament when she finds out that she is pregnant, even though she thought she could never have a child (2 Samuel 2:1-10.) The song is a beautiful expression of dependence on God. Mary does not win God's favor. She has been and remains filled with God's favor. God always takes the initiative.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Church of the Annunciation in Galilee was one of my favorite churches in the Holy Land. It is new and has brilliant stained glass windows. Inside the church and in a large courtyard outside there were depictions of the Annunciation from a large number of countries in a wide variety of styles and materials. Each country usually depicted the figures to look like they belonged to that country. Most of them were really beautiful. My favorite was this one from the Phillipines.
By having Mary and the angel and Jesus look like they came from all these different countries helped me to think that when God took on our flesh, it wasn't just as the individual Jesus who walked the roads of the Holy Land. God entered into all flesh, all humanity, all the world. Teilhard de Chardin said, "By virtue of creation, and still more of the Incarnation, there is nothing profane for those who know how to see."
Monday, December 6, 2010
I had an enjoyable evening with the group that I went with to the Holy Land. On a three hour drive home Saturday morning I found myself caught up in the ordinary beauty around me, scenery I had often enjoyed when it was more beautiful. For some reason I woke feeling great and that mood continued and made me happier the more I drove. A thought that popped into my head was, "God, my heart's not big enough for all this joy." There is a kind of ache that accompanies this much joy. Another kind of pilgrimage.
This is the scene that greeted me when I got home, just adding to my joy. There are a flock of Canada geese on the left, resting I guess on their journey south (clicking on the picture enlarges it.) Starting yesterday and continuing today the heavy snow and wind have hidden the far shore from me. I saw another flock of geese trying to fly south in the storm. Snow piles up and everything looks lovely. It feels good that there is no place I have to be.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I don't have any pictures of a lion lying down with a lamb, but a picture like this helps me to think of the Garden of Eden. Isaiah 11:6-9 promises a return to the harmony of Paradise where even the animals got along with one another. The One who is coming will restore the original bliss in which we were created. Each human being will recognize God living in the wonderful variety of all human beings and come to live with them in loving harmony.
"No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
for the country will be full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."