Monday, October 31, 2011
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 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.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
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
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.
Friday, October 7, 2011
The biggest thrill I had in Germany was being on the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain at 9,700 feet. We went up on a lift. The people in the picture could then climb a little higher to where the cross was mounted. That looked like quite a feat.
I have been meditating on Philippians 4:10-20 which contains a verse that I pray every morning when I get out of bed: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me." I change it to "You who strengthen me." In the passage Paul is thanking this community whom he loves so much for the money they have sent him. He explains that he has not lacked anything. "I have I learned to live modestly and I have learned to live luxuriously....I can do all things in him who strengthens me."
Paul expresses very well his total dependence on God, his full awareness that everything he does is God working through him.
Knowing he can count on God no matter what circumstances he finds himself in, Paul finds the courage to spread the Gospel around the Mediterranean. Whether climbing the highest mountain or telling people about Jesus, the strength comes from God within.
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
One of the experiences that most impressed me in Germany was Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich. This is the first prison Hitler built and it was initially for political prisoners. The sign on the gate says "Work makes Freedom," a truly big lie, since freedom was precisely what the prisoners were deprived of when they were sent to this camp. Eventually Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" were also sent to this camp.
60,000 people were killed here and their bodies burned in the ovens which we were shown. The large scale killing took place in camps designed just for that purpose, like Auschitz where more than a million were killed.
Then almost everywhere else I went in Germany I was reminded of the destruction from the Allies' bombing raids. For instance, 95% of Cologne was destroyed.
So one of the things that the trip made me most aware of was war and its horrors.
At the same time I was meditating on St. Paul's letter to the Philippians. My attention was especially caught by the verses at the beginning of the 4th chapter: "The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus," and a little further along: "The God of peace will be with you." I realized that the inner peace St. Paul was talking about is not the same as peace among nations. I couldn't help but think, however, that there is some relationship between the two. I think that the more people come to this inner peace the better they will be at working for peace among nations.