Thursday, December 29, 2011



"As for Mary, she treasured all these events and pondered them in her heart." (Lk.2:19) The Greek verb translated "pondered" means literally "to throw side by side." Mary in her heart tumbles together a visit to her by an angel, a birth of a boy, a manger, and the shepherds' story of angels in the night, to come to some understanding of it all. I think of a kind of small cylinder that I saw once that held rocks (agates?) from the ocean. It turned rapidly and tumbled them together until they gleamed with several brilliant colors.
This picture is from a new church near the site of the baptism of Jesus on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River. I like the vivid colors and the way many distinct events are pictured at the same time. Mary does seem to be pondering them all, tumbling them together. Joseph seems also to be pondering.
As I near the end of the year I want to set time aside to ponder the events of the past year, both personal and public. Maybe by tumbling them together in my heart I can come to some understanding, not brilliant perhaps, but helpful.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Just Plain


A little girl
Had wandered in the night, and now within
The shadows of a broken stall, was waiting,
While the night winds and the breath of time
Were moving over her...
Starlight moving imperceptibly,
The drift of time. And then a moment's fall,
The last that we should know of loneliness.
A sigh, unheard within the dark, and then...
She...wrapped him up in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger
And then
She knelt and held him close against her heart,
And in the midnight, adoration fused
With human love, and was not separate...
This is God's chosen way with men,
To take men's way: and so the streets she walks
And all the roads, the shepherd and the shepherds'
Sheep, the winds, the firelight, Israel's hills,
Will find just this, no more, a woman plain
Upon the earth, and in her arms, a child.
(The above is from "A Woman Wrapped in Silence"
by John W. Lynch)
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Thursday, December 22, 2011



This is a petroglyph from Wyoming County in southwestern West Virginia. In the early 1980's the script was identified as Celtic Ogam. The petroglyph was dated from 500-800 A.D. It was translated into Old Irish and then into English. It reads: "At the time of sunrise a ray grazes the notch on the left side on Christmas Day. A Feast-day of the Church, the first season of the year. The season of the blessed advent of the Savior, Lord Christ. Behold, he is born of Mary, a woman."
Not far away in 1989 a skeleton was found buried in front of another petroglyph. The head was identified as of European origin (not native American.) The skeleton has been carbon dated to 710 A.D., plus or minus 40 years.
There are several other petroglyphs in the region. One reads: "A happy season is Christmas, a time of joy and goodwill to all people. A virgin was with child; God ordained her to conceive and be fruitful. Ah, behold a miracle! She gave birth to a son in a cave. The name of the cave was the Cave of Bethlehem. His foster-father gave him the name Jesus, the Christ, Alpha and Omega. Festive season of prayer."
In the Julian calendar, which was in use until the 16th century, December 25 was the winter solstice. Christians in the 4th century decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the date of the solstice. The birthday of the Light of the World would coincide with the birthday of the Sun.
The above picture and the translations are from the March, 1983, issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine. The information about the skeleton is from the web site "Pre-historic West Virginia."
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cave of Bethlehem


The cave where Jesus was born is now underneath the Church of the Nativity. After winding through the church in an hour long line, we went down steep steps into a cave. Under an altar table is this star. Each person knelt down and looked through the hole in the middle of the star down onto the floor of a lower cave where Jesus was born. It was a very moving experience for me. A faith-deepening one.
Being in this cave helped me to realize vividly the humanity of Jesus. No matter how much I stress to myself that Jesus was 100% human as well as 100% divine, my imagination tends to dress the birth of Jesus in the glow of divinity. Even though there is much in the cave, like these hanging incense holders, that also stress divinity, the rock walls of the cave and its depth underground reminded me that a girl gave birth to a baby here and laid him in a manger intended to hold hay for the animals who shared this real place with them.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Heavenly Dimension


These mountains in southern Bavaria are heavenly.
I want to do some more thinking about a heavenly dimension. This is the sort of reflecting I used to do in my personal journal. I hope it is alright to do it here.
The night before last I had a dream in which I was in a parish hall arranging with the pastor to use the hall for some kind of ceremony. He told me I had to be finished exactly on time because someone else was having a meeting in the hall right after our ceremony. The other person spoke up and said, "That will be alright. Our group is meeting in a different dimension. We can be in the same place at the same time without seeing or hearing each other."
I am finding this kind of thinking a very helpful analogy for heaven.
For many years I have found thinking of heaven as "up" made God and the dead seem distant. It is certainly true, as a hymn I remember from childhood put it, "Out beyond the stretching of the farthest star, Thou art every reaching infinitely far." But the same hymn also sang of the closeness of God.
I remind myself that, like every religious reality, heaven is a mystery that we cannot completely conprehend. Comparison is the best we can do. The dream helps. Heaven is like another dimension that is in the same place as our earthly dimension, but we cannot see or hear what goes on there. At least, not usually. I wonder if something like centering prayer isn't a way of moving briefly into the heavenly dimension. That dimension exists in an eternal "now." When the prayer goes well, it feels like its twenty minutes is only a few.
So when I think about God becoming one of us, rather than think about God coming "down" into our world, I think of God moving through the "membrane" that separates the two dimensions and moving in to stay as Jesus Christ.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Word Became Flesh


The heart of the Annunciation story is the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. Where Matthew has the angel telling Joseph what has happened, Luke puts us in the moment. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God."
This is mystery beyond any human words or concepts. I try for analogy. I'm finding it helpful in recent months to think of the invisible, heavenly dimension completely intermingled with the our visible, earthly dimension. I think, then, of God moving through the "membrane" that separates invisible from visible and becoming a complete human being, while remaining completely God. God who is Love fully embraces our humanity. Human and Divine become One in Jesus.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let it be with me as you say.


In the modern Church of the Annunciation in the Holy Land there are many representations of the Annunciation and of the Madonna and Child from a variety of countries. There are so many that they spill out in the courtyard around the church.
Luke tells the story in 1:26-38. I find much for meditation in this passage. I have always been told that Mary was very young, but I just read yesterday that in Roman law the minimum age of marriage for girls was 10 and Jewish practices were similar. Marriage usually took place before a girl reached 12 and a half. Mary, then, would have been about 12 or 13 when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to have a child who would be the Son of God. How prepared could she be to make a decison? I don't know of any representation of the Annunciation in art that pictures her that young. I am shocked nowadays when I hear about a culture in which girls are married that young.
As I prayed about this yesterday I was caught up short when I realized that I had left home and gone to the minor seminary when I was 14. Of course I was not making the earth shattering decision with which Mary was faced. I was even far from making a final decision to become a priest; but I did, at that young age, make a decision that put me on a path to where I am now. I found myself grateful for God's favor to the very young Mary and to me.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoice Always


Last night driving home in the dark I saw the full moon rising and reflecting in the Lake. This morning I got this picture of the full moon setting and reflecting in the Lake, the whole scene colored by the expectant dawn.
Gaudete Sunday indeed! The order to rejoice is not needed when nature makes me feel a deep down joy. In Isaiah 61 the prophet sings, "With all my heart I rejoice in the Lord; God is the joy of my soul." In Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth are going to have a child (who will be John the Baptist), the angel says "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."
But in First Thessalonians St. Paul's order is "Rejoice always!" Always? Yes, always and all ways! No just when we are happy or hear good news. Joy is deeper than happiness, and sorrow. Paul doesn't expect me to pretend that I don't have problems nor to close my eyes to the weighty problems of church and world. Joy springs from an abiding confidence in God, so it can persist in the midst of the worst of times.
I suspect that's what Teilhard de Chardin meant when he said, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." Wherever I see joy or whenever I feel joy, I know that God is present. Perhaps joy is the best way that I can call attention to the invisible Jesus within me and around me.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Haze


I'm finally able to get my pictures onto the blog. The one below is referred to in the entry below it. The picture above is this morning. We've had about four inches of snow that laid on the roofs and grass, not much on the roads. Heavy, wet, snow, sticking to all the trees and power lines. Some areas had power outages, but our neighborhood just had beauty. At 19 degrees, this was our coldest morning so far. The Lake and its haze testify to a sun that has not yet appeared.
In John 1:8 the author says that John the Baptist "was not the light but came to testify to the light." In verse 26 he tells his questioners, "There is one among you whom you do not recognize." Jesus has not yet appeared.
Jesus lives unseen in me and in my world. I am not the light but I am to testify to the light. Jesus uses me to reflect his presence, hazy though I may be.
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Advent Dawning

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Dawn

I woke yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, to a rose sky from east to west. The color in the east, oddly, was not so strong as this northwest view.
As I have grown more and more aware through the years of the reality of Christ's constant presence within me and surrounding me, I find myself wondering what to make of Christ's Advent and of that prayer the ends the Bible, "Come, Lord Jesus."
It does not help me to pretend that I'm back with Isaiah preparing the way for the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. I suppose I could think of Christ's "present coming" as a constant, but ever fresh, advent. His "future coming" could be a kind of eternal "now" drawing me into a deeper and deeper relationship with him. Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection are eternally "now" from God's point of view.
This season might help me see that, even though Jesus is entirely present within and around me, there is still plenty of room for me to grow in my awareness of that constant presence and in my loving surrender to his eternal warm embrace.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving (picture)

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I thank God for views like this in our templed mountains.
Here are some other reasons that I thank God:
For coming to name God "Spirit of Love" and for a deepening relationship.
For being part of Christ's 2,000 year old community.
For the freedom and beauty and plenty with which God has blessed America.
For families and friends and all whom I love.
For for novels and poetry, for movies and music and all that re-creates me.
For our hills and trees and wind and clouds, for the tranquil nights and stars and silence.
For all those dead who lives have enriched mine.
For being able to take part in another Thanksgiving.
As is well known the Pilgrims were close to starving the first winter they were here. What is not well known is that one of them was the daughter of a Dublin merchant who sent a ship, The Lyon, with a cargo of the much needed food which saved the tiny colony. The day after the ship's arrival, February 21, 1621, was designated a Day of Thanksgiving. So, if it hadn't been for an Irishman, there would not have been any Pilgrims left nine months later to celebrate the Day of Thanksgiving that is much better known.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hall of Judgment

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This picture was supposed to go with the judgment scenes a few days ago.

Christmas? cactus

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Future Coming


Maybe this is a Thanksgiving cactus or a Veterans' Day cactus or an Advent cactus. It set buds as soon as I brought it in from outside in early October and took its time opening up.
Advent starts with a meditation on the future coming of Jesus into our world. Many of the early Christians expected this to happen in their lifetime and it didn't. It does no good to continue speculating on when this is going to happen. I'm left wondering 2000 years later how to integrate this expectation into my relationship with God.
I share the early Christians' faith in God's victory in Jesus. With the help of Jesus I still have some skirmishes to fight but the final outcome is settled. Advent hope. I find it helpful, then, to think of my own death as the "future coming of Jesus."
I like the thought of the Risen Jesus as a kind of horizon that draws me to him, a kind of magnet attracting me to grow into him.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Brother's Keeper


Some years ago a man, wishing to justify his being concerned only for himself and his family, told me that the Bible says that he is not his brother's keeper.
I said, "That phrase is in the Bible, but it's on the lips of Cain who has just killed his brother Abel. When God comes looking for Abel, he asks Cain where he is. Cain rudely replies, 'Am I my brother's keeper!'"
I wonder how often, by what I do or don't do, I'm telling God that I am not my brother's keeper. It's easier to see it in others. There's certainly a lot of people in our country right now who think that they are not their brother's keeper.
In Matthew 25:31-46, that I've been praying about all week, Jesus says, "Oh yes! you are your brother's keeper." The poor, the sick, the stranger, need me. I'll be judged on whether or not I meet their needs. I think I have an obligation to do this not only on an individual level but on a national and international level.
There are people without food and water and clothing and medical care, strangers here from other countries, people in prison and on death row. There are things I can do to help them, actions I can take, movements I can support. I need faith-filled eyes to recognize Jesus in the needy and a loving heart to meet his needs by meeting theirs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jesus in the Needy


Here is part of a haunting reflection that an old friend wrote more than fifty years ago:
"In the thinning of the forests,
in the lengthening of shadows,
our life is seen as fleeting,
our end as drawing near."
As we approach the end of the Church year, we turn our thoughts to Jesus' story of judgment(Matthew 25:31-46.) What I find most striking about this picture is that the criteria for judgment is whether I helped those who needed me, not whether I went to church or did any of the things that I think of as religion. Jesus insists that the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison have a claim on me.
The basis of their claim is different from the one that usually motivates my moral behavior. I am aware that Jesus is living in me and reaches out through me to love others. Jesus in me enables me to be good.
Here the motivation is reversed. Jesus lives in others. In helping those who need me, I am helping Jesus.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Risking Growth


The cold nights are drawing a lot of heat out of the Lake, so there is often fog in the mornings. As the sun rises it lends the scenery a haunting beauty that invites reflection.
I meditated this morning on the parable of the talents in Matthew's Gospel (25:14-30.) In the parable a "talent" is an amount of money. A talent was worth more than 15 years' wages of a laborer. Jesus wants to highlight the risk involved. The master is giving these slaves enormous amounts of money.
The parable helped me to think about the risk involved in any kind of growth and about God's expectation that I run the risk, even at 75. My thoughts turned particularly to growth in my relationship with God. I have been given some insights recently from books like Johnson's "Quest for the Living God" and a book by Ilia Delio called "The Emerging Christ" which I am just beginning. Other insights have come from my own reflecting and from conversations with friends. The risk involved in pursuing these insights is that I will have to let go of my more familiar notion of God. Hopefully the gain will be a richer understanding of God and a deeper relationship with this Spirit of Love.
I remembered Griffith's image of a child standing at the edge of a deep, dark, well. Out of the darkness he hears a voice, "Jump, my child, I'll catch you."
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Dying and Rising with Jesus


The oldest Christian writing we have is St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians. It was written only about 17 years after Jesus died and rose, well before the first Gospel. As such, it is a valuable glimpse into the beliefs of the earliest Christians.
Most of them expected Jesus to come back in their own lifetime. By the year 50 some of them are dying and the Thessalonians are wondering what will happen to those who die before Jesus returns. One of the main reasons that Paul writes the letter is to assure them that those still alive will not have an advantage over those who are dead. He says,
"We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that in the same way God will bring with him those who have died in Jesus." (4:14)
I find it heartening that this belief was already so clearly stated so early in Christian history.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

All Saints


Today we honor our parents and many other relatives and friends who are with God in heaven. This is a catch-all feast for all those saints who were not extraordinary enough to get their own feast.
Early on the Romans celebrated a feast of all martyrs on May 15, which became all saints. The Irish had been keeping November 1 as a holy day in honor of the dead long before the time of Jesus. When they became Christians, it was easy to adapt that feast to honor all saints. Interestingly enough, when it came time for the Church to establish a feast of All Saints, the Irish date caught the imagination.
Our dead relatives are still very close to us. We can ask them to pray for us and for our family. We can honor them also as models of how to become a saint. When the famous saints seem so holy and beyond our imitation, we can look to our parents and cousins to show us how to live a holy life and move over into another dimension to be with God forever.
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Monday, October 31, 2011

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October Snow


Saturday, October 29, this was one of many scenes that took me out of myself. Sure, it was way too early for snow and I was afraid that the trees still with leaves might break under eight inches of wet snow, but the extravagant beauty carried the morning. I took more than fifty pictures. It was still snowing as I took my morning walk and I did my best to shelter the camera. My right glove got so wet from taking it on and off that I finally stuffed it in my pocket and kept my camera ready in my hand stuffed in another pocket.
Everywhere I looked there was more beauty and always there was God.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Crack Between The Worlds

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Day of the Dead


The Mexican Day of the Dead begins the evening of November 1 and continues into November 2. It has the same feel as the Irish Eve of All Saints, but comes a day later. In a very lovely article in the October 20, 1995, "Commonweal," Ann Roy writes about her experience of the Mexican tradition when she moved from the U.S. to Mexico.
A new neighbor brought her a fine hard-sugar skull the size of a grapefruit with her name "Ana" on it. The author thought she may have offended the neighbor in some way and put it away. When the neighbor noticed it wasn't on display, she showed the author how to put it on her mantel with candles beside it that were to be kept burning through the night of November 1-2.
Another neighbor explained to her "'the crack between the two worlds' that opens up soon after midnight 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!"
The neighbor added, "Some people not from here feel afraid at this time. But that is 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 tegether again, for a while."

Thursday, October 27, 2011



I just saw a show on TV last night in which a new neighbor upsets the whole neighborhood by decorating his yard for Halloween. The neighbors complain that they don't want to frighten their children. No one, of course, brought up the meaning of the holiday.
It's easy to forget that "hallows" is an old English word for "saints;" "een" is shortened from "evening." It's the Eve of the feast of All Saints. Halloween and many of its observances were brought to this country by the Irish in the 19th century.
The religion of most of the Irish before Christianity was Druid. November 1 was their New Year. They believed that on the last night of the year the god of the dead released those who had died during the year to return to their families for one last evening. The family gathered around the fireplace with the dead relatives favorite food and whiskey and tobacco and pipe. They entertained him or her with song and dance.
The Irish were also aware that some of the dead had no living family to go back to, so they built bonfires at the crossroads and put food and drink beside them for the groups of the dead who wandered that night with no family. It doesn't take much of a stretch to move from that practice to groups of "ghouls and goblins" wandering from house to house looking for hospitality.
When I was a child in a small town we put on costumes and went from house to house in groups (no adults!) The group was welcomed into the home where we sang songs and recited poems and sometimes danced. Then the people of the house would try to guess who each of us was. Only then did they give us a treat and we went on our way.
Remembering the dead at this time of year has much to do with the bare trees and dying leaves and the growing darkness. The dead are nothing to be afraid of. They are family and others like us who have moved on into another dimension of existence with God. They have our best interests at heart and we can ask them to pray for us.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mystical Experiences1

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Mystical Experiences


Suddenly there's God! On a recent early morning trip this is the sight that literally stopped me as I came over a mountain and saw a valley shrouded with fog. I pulled off the road and tried to get a picture of it. The nearby hills, dark in the picture, were at their peak of fall color.
Experiences like this take me immediately into God. This is what I think of as a "mystical experience," an awareness of God's presence and love, often sparked for me by some natual beauty.
I wonder if this isn't what Karl Rahner was talking about when he said that the contemporary Christian will be a mystic or nothing at all. As explicit supports for religion fade away in our society, it helps to become sensitive to the many ways that God shows Godself in ordinary life. This leads us also to find God in the values of our so-called "secular society."
In a very helpful article in the October 7 issue of "Commonweal" titled "Nearer to God:Demystifying Mysticism," Lawrence S. Cunningham points out that "Rahner believed that God's self-communication was at the heart of human experience." To me that means that the direct sense of God's presence and love is not something reserved for religious experts or even for just plain old religious folks. It is available to every human being. I think this is what Rahner means by "everyday mystic."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Give to God what is God's


This past weekend our trees seemed to be at their peak. The autumn colors were brilliant. This view across the Lake always lifts me up. It's impossible for me to drive around these mountains at this time of year without thanking God at every turn. It's a way of giving to God what is God's.
When the religious leaders try to trap Jesus (Matthew 22:15-21) into giving an opinion about whether it's right to pay taxes, Jesus expands the conversation by saying, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." "Sure, pay your taxes," Jesus says in effect, "but what is way more important is that you pay God his due."
The autumn scenery reminds me that God is everywhere and that everyone and everything belongs to God. So when Jesus tells me to give to God what is God's, that's everything, including the government and taxes, and my very self.
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