Monday, December 31, 2012

7th Day of Christmas


Merry Christmas! Day 7!  Today dawned with this beautiful reflection of sky in the newly, barely frozen lake. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
I'm convinced that the best way to a happy new year is to make more time for contemplation.
After the shepherds visit to the manger, Luke says,"Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart."  "Treasure" involves taking great care to keep something in mind so as not to forget it or lose it.  "Ponder" involves knocking ideas and memories up against each other, like stones being polished, until we get some glimmer of meaning.
Mary's contemplation is a model for us in the new year.  Contemplation takes different forms, depending on the individual.  For me it's best sitting still in centering prayer or walking alone in my quiet neighborhood.
Michael McGrath, in Saved by Beauty, says it's essential to find what works for you, what puts you in a place of inner peace.  Journal, garden, paint, draw, sing, dance, chop vegetables and make soup, bake bread, listen to music, carve a piece of wood, fish, hunt, or just get up 15 minutes earlier than you like, make a cup of coffee or tea, sit in your favorite chair and "simply pay attention to God, who you will see has already been up for hours paying attention to you."
God wants to draw each of us into a deeper love.  All we have to do is put ourselves at God's disposal, make time for contemplation.  That's the best way to a happy new year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

6th Day of Christmas


Merry Christmas! Day 6!  The snowflakes yesterday were so big that they showed up in this picture.  We have had a lot of snowing and blowing.  (Clicking on picture enlarges it.)
I decided today not to go out.  I spent the day reviewing the past year, reading my journal and writing some thoughts about 2012.  I did some reading and praying and listening to music, all in a quiet Christmas atmosphere in my living room, colored lights and manger scene.
I finished a lovely book I've been reading about Dorothy Day, my favorite American of the 20th century.  It's a coffee table size book by an artist Michael O'Neill McGrath with a lot of his paintings and references to St. Francis de Sales.  I found it a brief, insightful look at Dorothy Day and an inviting introduction to St. Francis. 
One of the pieces of Christmas music that I listened to was Berlioz' "L'Enfant du Christ."  It ends with a Muslim family taking in the Jewish family, Joseph, Mary, and the Child Jesus, when they arrive exhausted in Egypt.  The host is also a carpenter and tells the listener that Joseph worked with him for ten years before returning to Nazareth.
As I looked back at the year the best memories revolve around the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of my ordination.  The pilgrimage I made to Canterbury Cathedral was also deeply satisfying.  These and other happy memories helped to put some of the bad ones in perspective.
Adding to the mellow feeling of the day was a phone call from an old friend and another from one of my nephews.

Friday, December 28, 2012

4th Day of Christmas


Happy 4th Day of Christmas!  The sun came out around 1 PM and showed off the snow that we have been accumulating.  This farm is always photogenic.  (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)
I continued to read and reflect on "Finding Jesus in the Temple."  Father Ray Brown's little booklet from long ago, An Adult Christ at Christmas, and Luke Timothy Johnson's fairly recent commentary on Luke for the Sacra Pagina series were both helpful. 
Luke tells the story so that the heart of it is verse 49.  Brown translates it the same as the lectionary, "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"  Johnson prefers, "Did you not know that I must involve myself in my Father's affairs?'  The Greek seems to imply "things," but there is no noun after the article "the."  In any case it seems that the point of the story is that Jesus is referring to God as his Father.  Up until this point in Luke's Gospel it has been others who have been saying that he is divine.  Here Jesus says it himself.
I'm not sure how a homily on this Gospel would focus on the Holy Family.  A sermon might focus on how Jesus as God and son makes the family holy and how God living in each one of our family can make our family holy.  (A homily is developed from the meaning of the Scripture passage; a sermon can be on any topic, no matter what the scripture readings.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

3rd Day of Christmas


Happy Third Day of Christmas!  Instead of turtle doves or French hens, we got 9 inches of snow and lots of wind.  It was too miserable yesterday morning to go for my walk.  Here's a picture that I took on today's walk.  There were still times that the wind was so fierce that I walked backwards into it.
I started meditating today on Sunday's Gospel, Luke 2: 41-52.  Family life at the time of Jesus was so different from now that I wasn't finding much to pray about in the behavior of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. The last verse is the one that I ended up spending time on, both for research and for prayer: "Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man." 
I looked at eleven English translations, plus the original Greek.  Phillips' sense translation is helpful: "As Jesus continued to grow in body and mind, he grew also in the love of God and of those who knew him."  That the Son of God needed to grow and change can encourage us.  God couldn't possibly love us more than God loved us when we came into existence.  I guess we can grow, however, in God's estimation of us and and the way we go about our lives.  Hopefully we can grow in the estimation of those who know us and in our ability to accept love from them.  Committing ourselves to continued growth with the help of Jesus will enrich our relationships with our family.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love is Born at Christmas


Five year old Bobby says, "Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen."
In the First Letter of John the author says, "God is Love."  How do we know?  "God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him."  A few lines down, John repeats, "God is Love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them." (4:8,9,16)   I think "Love" is a nearly perfect name for God.
A long time ago in Bethlehem Love, moving through dimensions we can only imagine, took on human flesh; and, in doing so, Love embraced the whole human race.  That saving embrace reaches across the ages and enfolds you and me right now.  We need never be lonely again.  In Love we live and move and have our being.
The ever present media brings us news of war and shootings and more war.  Our own experience tells us that people can be mean and hurtful.  Looking honestly within ourselves, we see selfishness and greed and resentment.
The Love who comes into our world at Christmas joins us in our suffering.  Love even goes to the Cross to take upon himself all human misery.
With such a companion we can never be really lost.  This is the last of loneliness.  With five year old Bobby we stop and listen for Love being born at Christmas.

2nd Day of Christmas


Well, here's a Christmas cactus that got it right.  It started blooming about a week ago.  I wonder why there are no blooms on the top, not even buds.
I know some people count today as the first day of Christmas.  Somewhere  a while back I read that it is different in different countries.  I have always counted with the church.  So expect two turtle doves.  Twelfth Night then is  the night before January 6, the original date of the feast of Epiphany.
I had a wonderful First Day of Christmas with the very large family of one of my sisters.  As I count, thinking back, I come up with 37.  Lots to eat and good company.
When we love someone we want to be with them, we want to spend time with them.  Love longs for union. 
God loves us and wants to be with us, spend time with us.  In fact God wants to spend all of time with us.  Whether we image God as Father, Mother, Friend, God is this Tremendous Lover who longs for total union.  In Jesus divinity and humanity are united.   We're not just talking about the humanity of Jesus.  In the mystery of the Incarnation God draws the whole human race into an eternal, loving embrace.
In these Days of Christmas God communes with us heart to heart.  For many of us the busyness of getting ready for December 25 is over and we do have time to be still and pray, read some favorite Christmas story or listen to some quiet Christmas music. 
Even more our entire human community is bound together in God's love, and peace is possible.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Divine Dimensions


The blizzard that we had didn't seem to produce a lot of snow.  The wind blowing from the northwest, however, was so fierce that it wrapped around these pines and stuck snow on their southeast side.  Today's early morning sun made them look like they had been whitewashed.   Clicking on the picture enlarges it.  
For two years now I have been trying to use dimensional metaphors to try to grasp what it means for God to come from heaven to take on flesh and become one of us.
I don't find it helpful to think of God coming "down."  The preposition that I find more helpful is "through."  Christmas is God moving through dimensions we can only imagine to become one of us.
It's as if divine dimensions and earthly dimensions coincide.  They ocupy the same space and time.   
God is everywhere, so God fills all dimensions.  In these earthly dimensions, however, we can't experience God with our senses.  We see and hear and feel God's presence in the Goodness and Beauty around us, but we don't experience God directly with our senses. 
God wants to be completely available to us.  So God moves through dimensions we can only imagine to enter Mary's womb and take on human flesh.  Without ceasing to be divine, God becomes fully human.  God lives in our earthly dimensions as one of us.  Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi see and hear and touch God in this human baby.  Love, another name for God, is born at Christmas.







Friday, December 21, 2012

Solstice Blizzard


This picture of a cold winter sunset is from the end of November.  I certainly wouldn't have been able to get a picture of the sunset on this Winter Solstice.  We have been having heavy snow and high winds since early afternoon.  Sure looks like the first day of winter.  It's supposed to keep up until tomorrow evening.  It felt good not to have to be anywhere and to sit in my warm home looking out on snow flying horizontally across the lake. 
In some Christmas cards I wrote yesterday I said that it didn't look like Christmas but we could keep Christmas in our hearts.  Now it can be in our eyes as well as in our hearts.
For those of us who grew up in these hills, snow at Christmas was pretty much taken for granted.  If you were to ask me to recall some time from my childhood when I felt most secure, it would be coming out of Christmas Midnight Mass with snow falling thick on our faces and laughing parishioners wishing each other Merry Christmas. I felt the large embrace of this family of faith. 
It is dark now and the howling wind is beating snow against the windows.  I think of how frightening a solstice night like this must have seemed to the people who built Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.  For too many days they would have watched the sun lose its battle with night.  Now it would look like darkness had won.
We know that isn't so, but there are times when another kind of darkness seems about to envelop our world and we need so much to hear "A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!  On those who live in a land of gloom a light has shone!" (Isaiah 9:1, from Christmas Midnight Mass)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

We are Christ's presence


The Odd Life of Timothy Green has just come out in DVD.  I saw it in the theater and liked it a lot.  It captures beautifully a couple's longing for a baby.  Jennifer Garner plays the wife who has not been able to get pregnant.  One of my sisters told me Sunday that she and her husband Ben Affleck were so moved by the film that they decided to have another child themselves.
Five years ago Jennifer Garner was in a terrific movie called Juno.  It's about a teenager who gets pregnant and decides to give her baby up for adoption.  Garner plays the woman who will be adopting the baby.  She runs into Juno in the mall.  While they chat Juno tells her that the baby just kicked and asks her if she wants to feel it.  Garner puts her hands on Juno's belly and kneels down in front of her and talks to the baby in Juno's womb.  She tells the baby how much she has wanted to have a child and how she looks forward to raising her.  It's a powerful scene.
Since seeing Juno this scene comes to mind when I read Luke's brilliant account (1:39-45) of the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, both pregnant.  Elizabeth says, "As soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb jumped for joy."  Elizabeth's baby is John the Baptist.  Already in the womb he has started his life-long work of calling attention to Jesus.
Mary, carrying Jesus within her, has come to help her cousin Elizabeth who is six month's pregnant.  The scene makes me think about Jesus' living within each of us and using us to bring joy to others by our goodness to them.  We are Christ's presence in our world.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Be Joyful Sunday


It's summer.  I'm out for my early morning walk.  As I walk in the part of my neighborhood that has no homes, only woods on both sides of the road, everything takes on a beauty that I don't remember noticing before.  It's almost as if I'm seeing the trees for the first time.  The early light filtering down through the trees is new.  It seems as if I'm walking on air.
I'm lifted up by an intense joy.  There is so much that my heart cannot contain it.  At the same time I feel a gentle ache that comes, I think, from not being able to grasp the whole experience.  Just too much joy!  I become aware that the Joy and God are One and the Same and I am lost in IT. 
"Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." (Teilhard de Chardin)
"Shout joy to the Lord, all earth,
  serve the Lord with gladness,
  enter God's presence with joy!" (Psalm 100:1)

Friday, December 14, 2012

New Beginnings


Two people have recently observed that this blog looks different.  It is.  I'm going to try to approach it in a new way.  Our rector in the seminary high school often told us, "Life is a series of new beginnings."  The new beginning is that I am very clear that I am writing to you.
When I began the blog in April, 2007,  my idea was to write the blog without identifying myself as a priest.  I thought I could concentrate on how God was dealing with me in my solitude here by the lake in such a way that the blog might appeal to people who were searching for God or searching for growth in their relationship with God, but who didn't trust organized religion.
Eventually, it seemed clear that I wasn't reaching that kind of person.  Blogspot tells me that I have 13 followers.  I knew of three priests and several lay people near my age who read the blog regularly.
I became convinced that I had about 20 readers.  I identified myself as a priest and sometimes wrote about more churchly things.
I also decided to write the blog the way I  wrote my personal journal, as if I was simply reflecting for myself on whatever was in my heart.  If that was of any help to the 20 readers of my journal, fine.
Recent events have made it clear that I was extremely naive about how many people could have access to my blog.  Some of them may be seekers after a deeper relationship with God.  Some may be just curious.  Some are out to hurt me.  So it's clear that I must be more cautious.
From now on I will write with the awarenesss that I am addressing you.  In fact I have written the last several entries that way.  That means that I won't always write, as before, whatever is in my heart.  I hope God will still help me to find ways to be very personal about what God is doing with me here.  I will, however, keep in check feelings and opinions that readers could use to hurt me.
The blog has become a valuable part of my life here.  I hope I can make it valuable for many of you as well.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Surprised by Joy


This morning I was reading an article by Zadie Smith in the current New Yorker that caught some of what I was saying yesterday about joy: "This is the effect that listening to Joni Mitchell has on me these days: uncontrollable tears.  An emotional overcoming , disconcertingly distant from happiness, more like joy--if joy is the recognition of an almost intolerable beauty.  It's not a very civilized emotion."
I think it was C.S. Lewis' book Surprised by Joy that first helped me to articulate this ache that is somehow wrapped up in joy.  He says what he means by joy in a passage that begins, "As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery.  It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden comes somewhere near it."
Lewis says it is like a longing for a longing "an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.  I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure....anyone who has experienced it will want it again...I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world."
The Joy we celebrate this "Be Joyful Sunday" is a surprise that springs from a sudden realization of God's presence in us or in this sunset moment or in some overwhelming kindness from a friend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Color of Joy


As I sat down to do this blog about joy, I had planned to use a different picture.  But as I listened to an email from one of my sisters, I turned from the computer and wow! this sunset caught my attention.  As the sun moves further south on the horizon, it is setting behind some trees.  So I had to go down to the water's edge to get this perspective.
I reflected today on the 2nd reading for this Sunday from Paul's Letter to the Phillippians (4:4-7).  "Rejoice in the Lord always," he begins, "Again I say, Rejoice!"  He apparently read my blog yesterday because he says, "Do not worry about anything."  The source of all this joy is that the Lord is present within us and God is looking out for us and all of our needs.  "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Sunday is Rejoice (Gaudete) Sunday.  In the 1st reading the prophet Zephaniah proclaims, "Shout for joy...Sing joyfully...Be glad and exult with all your heart....The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you."
Today is 12/12/12, the last triple date that many of us will see in our lifetime.  Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe who has brought joy for 400 years to the people of Mexico and the Caribbean.
The first blog that I wrote in April, 2007, was titled "Joy."  Several times since then I have reflected on it here.  Joy is something deeper and more lasting than happiness.  We can feel joy even in the midst of troubles and problems.  I notice, too, that even in the best of times, joy carries with it a kind of ache in our hearts.  I think the ache comes from our hearts' not being able to contain all the Goodness or Beauty that we are experiencing.  In that first blog more than five years ago I quoted Teilhard de Chardin: "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pruning Still


I am going through a worrisome time right now.  One of my oldest friends called last night and suggested that maybe God wasn't through pruning me after all.  He was referring to a retreat I gave more than three years ago based on John 15, the Vine and the Branches.
On retreat we read the passage "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser....every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more."  I suggested that we each go off by ourselves and think about how God is pruning us. 
When I reported back to the group, I said that since I had retired I couldn't think of any hard times through which God might be pruning me.  One of the women who knows  a lot about trees said that you couldn't prune an old tree because it doesn't have the life force to start putting out new growth.  I was disappointed that God thought I was about as good as God could get me, but I was also relieved that hard times were over for me.
Surprise!  Pruning has begun again!
After breakfast this morning I spent some time reflecting on John 15 and talking to God about the pruning that is going on.  If God thinks I'm worth pruning, that means I have been fruitful and could be more fruitful.  So I thank God for the pruning.  I don't like it.  But I see it's needed.
Sometimes when I prune a plant it looks like I've destroyed it.  The picture above is the miniature tangerine that I pruned with the help of the retreatants in June, 2009.  When we finished with it, there wasn't much left except the trunk and two or three short bare branches.  It has flourished since then.  This is the fourth time that it has produced the tiny fruit.  Last January I picked more than 200 off it. The little white things you can see are the beginning of blossoms.  They have a beautiful smell similar to orange blossoms. Most of them will eventually become tiny tangerines.
In verse 5 Jesus says, "Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty."  So be it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sitting Ducks


I know it's a poor picture, but it was a fascinating incident.  For about two weeks there have been as many as 260 ducks in the lake in front of my home.  They are considerably smaller than mallards.  Some I recognize as Buffleheads, but there are much more of a kind I can't find in my bird book.  I have never seen them on shore.  They are always in the water.
Thursday morning about seven I saw this bald eagle circling and diving at them.  I took the picture through my bedroom window and at a distance.  By the time I got outside, he was gone.
He came back about the same time on Saturday morning.   With only bedroom slippers and no coat, I ran down to the water's edge, but the eagle flew away.  Neither morning did he seem to have any duck in his beak.
What was most fascinating was how tightly they bunched together and how quickly they moved one way or the other as the eagle kept diving.  I could hear the swoosh of the water as they shifted quickly back and forth.  I wondered how they knew it was time to swim right or left or forward or backward.  It was as if they moved with one brain.
Since they never come on land, they were completely exposed.  It was the first time I realized the meaning of the phrase "sitting ducks."  But of course they didn't just sit; they banded together and moved together and, apparently, out-maneuvered the eagle.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Immaculate Conception


This picture is from the Church of the Annunciation in the Holy Land where there are images of Mary from many countries of the world.  The collection capture well the note of universal salvation which is a theme of the Gospel according to Luke, from which we will read the Sunday Gospel all this coming year.  (To enlarge picture, click on it with mouse)
Today's feast of the Immaculate Conception chooses the Gospel of the Annunciation to capture Mary's holiness.  We remember this scene every time we pray the Angelus.
The angel of the Lord brought a message to Mary.
Let it be done to me as you say.
And the Word became flesh and made his home among us.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wake up to dawn


Looking northwest (!) at 7  this 16 degree morning.  And one of the psalms for today which I prayed while I was looking at this sky:
"Awake, my harp and lyre,
 so I can wake up the dawn!
 I will lift my voice in praise,
 sing of you, Lord, to all nations.
 For your love reaches heaven's edge,
 your unfailing love, the skies.
 O God, rise high above the heavens!
 Spread your glory across the earth!
 (Psalm 57:8-11  ICEL1995 translation)
Dawn is for me a good Advent image, as I try to grasp Jesus here but not yet here.  Today's especially, where the not yet risen sun in the east is already coloring the northwestern sky.  Light for those sitting in darkness. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

All Flesh Redeemed


"All flesh will see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6)
"Put on the beauty of God's glory forevermore...
 for God means to show your splendor to every nation under heaven."
"...the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every human being the possibility of being associated with this Paschal Mystery."  (Vatican II's Church in the Modern World  #22)
Alfred Burt captured similar thoughts with his lovely Christmas Carol, Some Children See Him.
Here are a few of the stanzas:
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
 The Lord of Heav'n to earth come down;
 Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
 With dark and heavy hair.
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
 This Savior that we kneel beside;
 Some children see Him almond-eyed
 With skin of yellow hue....
The children in each different place
 Will see the baby Jesus' face,
 Like theirs, but bright with heav'nly grace
 And filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing,
 And with your heart as offering,
 Come worship now the Infant King,
 'Tis love that's born tonight.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Love the Questions


Today is Rainer Maria Rilke's birthday.  A quote from his "Letters to a Young Poet" helped me 35 years ago, not to be a poet, but to deal with difficulties.  I've kept it in a book of quotes that I value: 
"I want to beg you as much as I can....to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves....Do not now seek answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer....take whatever comes with great trust and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your innermost being, take it upon yourself, and hate nothing."
Not bad advice for an old man either.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Last of Loneliness


I'm not sure I understood some of what I've written lately.  As Advent begins I have been reflecting on how Jesus, who is "yesterday, today, and forever," gathers into the present moment the past and future.  I have tried to put it more succinctly and poetically:
The Last of Loneliness
God in God's Eternal Now enfolding all that is and was and will be
Enduring Love who loves our lost and longing world
moving through dimensions we can only imagine to become one of us
and now in Love's Eternal Now we live and move and have our being

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hang in There


This is some of the destruction in our neighborhood from the hurricane/blizzard.  I am impressed that, in the midst of torn trees and broken branches, the red oak hangs onto its leaves.
Whenever things look impossible I often come across a passage like the following which helps me to hang in there.  It is from Father Raymond Brown's 1988 booklet A Coming Christ in Advent.
"The genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) has also taught us that God did not hesitate to entrust to a monarchical institution an essential role in the Story of His Son's origins--an authoritative institution (at times authoritarian) which He guaranteed with promises lest it fail but which was frequently led by corrupt, venal, stupid, and ineffective leaders, as well as sometimes by saints.  He has not hesitated to entrust the continuation of the Story to a hierarchically structured church, guaranteed with promises, but not free from its own share of the corrupt, the venal, the stupid, and the ineffective.  Those 'Chistians' who proclaim that they believe in and love Jesus but cannot accept the church or the institution because it is far from perfect and sometimes a scandal have not understood the beginning of the Story and consequently are not willing to face the challenge of its continuation."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Always Arriving


I took this picture during a late afternoon walk today as the cold setting sun off to my right was turning the lake silver.
I used an old sermon of Karl Rahner's for spiritual reading yesterday and today.  It's from a collection of his sermons, The Eternal Year, published in English in 1964, translated from the 1953 German.
He reminds me that "Advent" means an arrival.  The liturgy brings into the present the past arrival of God in our world and the arrival yet to come as well as the present arrival in sacrament and grace.  Advent celebrates an interpenetration of the past, present and future.  Jesus is always ariving in our world.
This constantly coming Jesus lives in me and enables me in faith to experience his arrival long ago and his arrival yet to come.  I don't become lost in nostalgia for Bethlehem nor in anxiety about the Final Coming.  That coming is not so much a second arrival as the perfect completion of God's own life already established in the world by the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
Rahner says, "In a mysterious way the believer becomes a contemporary of the Incarnate Son of God."  I enter into Christ's living and dying and rising.  I look to my future as an event that is happening right now as Jesus brings me to my own perfect completion.
Jesus within draws me into the eternal "now" of God.  There is not past nor future for God.  God experiences everything as now.  Both the past of my life which has become holy, and my life's eternal, boundless future draw together in the now of this world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heaven


Someone asked me lately what I thought about life after death.  Well, I believe we do live on as individuals after we die.  That's my faith.
When we are talking about something like heaven, we are dealing with a reality that is beyond our complete comprehension.  We don't have words or concepts that adequately capture the reality, so I have to find metaphors or analogies that will help me get some way of thinking about heaven.
I don't find thinking of heaven as being "up" a very helpful metaphor, any more than thinking of God as an old man with a beard.
I find it helpful to think about heaven as another dimension that is intermingled with the dimension in which I live.  Though it is right here, I can't usually experience this other dimension with my senses.  This heavenly dimension is completely Divine, filled entirely with God.  Since God is Love, this other dimension is all Love who is personal, who knows and loves. 
My fondness for fantasy and science fiction make this metaphor of another dimension very meaningful for me.
I think of the Risen Jesus as crossing over body and soul into this heavenly dimension.  I think of him as there and here, a sort of portal between dimensions.  Jesus lives in me at the same time as he lives in heaven.  In contemplation I believe that I enter into this other dimension.  When I die Jesus moves me completely into this heavenly dimension.  Life is changed, not ended.
Those who have already died are living a full life in this heavenly dimension, knowing and loving God and one another, able to know and care about what I do here.  I believe that I can talk with them and ask them to pray for me and for others whom I love.  This dimensional thinking is a metaphor that enables me to feel close to the dead and totally immersed in God.
(This was the morning sky the day after Thanksgiving.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Love That Never Runs Out


Today I give thanks to "Love that never runs out."  That's the perfect phrase that Gordon Jackson uses for God's faithful love in his translation of the psalms, The Lincoln Psalter.
In John 1:14 & 17 the great Scripture scholar Ray Brown uses the phrase "enduring love" to translate the two Greek nouns charis and aletheia.  He explains that these two words 'are used here in a unique way reflecting the OT pairing of hesed and emet.  God's hesed is God's kindness or mercy in choosing Israel without any merit on Israel's part.  Suggested translations are covenant love, merciful love, kindness, loving kindness....God's emet is God's fidelity to the covenant promises.  Suggested translations are "fidelity, constancy, faithfulness." 
In Exodus 34:6, God making the covenant with Moses on Mount Sinai, is described as "The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in hesed and emet."  In the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus in John 18 emet is the Greek word that is translated "truth."
Today I am grateful to LOVE THAT NEVER RUNS OUT who comes to me in Jesus, in family and friends, in movies, and in nature and in this morning's serene Lake.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Reign of Enduring Love


In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate (John 18:33-37) Jesus will not accept the title "king" and speaks instead of his "kingdom."  The Greek word means "reign" or "rule," more an action than a place.  John, unlike the other three Gospels, has not talked about the "kingdom" until now.  He is beginning here to present Jesus as a kind of king.  Jesus takes care to qualify the title.
What he does say without qualification is that his purpose is to reveal Divine Truth, "The reason I have been born, the reason I have come into the world, is to testify to the truth."  The purpose of John's whole Gospel is to show Jesus as the revelation of God.  In John 1:14&18 the author says "And the Word became flesh and made his home among us.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love....this enduring love came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; it is God the only Son, ever at the Father's side, who has revealed Him."
"Enduring love" is Ray Brown's translation of two Greek words often translated "grace and  truth."  The truth that Jesus reveals in the flesh is that God is Enduring Love.  The Reign of Jesus is the reign of Enduring Love.
(This closeup of a blossom on my hibiscus plant reveals more of the blossom than I see when I look at the plant.  I also thought it looked kind of royal.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kings


I find it hard to warm up to the feast for Christ the King.  I know my reluctance has to do with my great love of democracy and the freedom I experience in our nation.  We turned our backs on kings in 1776. 
An effective metaphor leads me into a more complete appreciation of something.  "King" doesn't deepen my relationship with Jesus.  Rather my awareness of the presence of Jesus within me and of his gracious love for me helps me to see a little bit why I might consider him "King."
"Good Shepherd" is similarly ineffective for me since I don't know any shepherds.  I have to find out about a shepherd's relationship to his sheep in order to see how appropriate it is as a name for Jesus.  At least I think I might find a shepherd a little easier to warm up to.
This may not be making a lot sense because I'm just beginning to mull over what the coming feast of Christ the King might mean for me.
It is the newest of the feasts honoring Jesus.  Pope Pius XI, no lover of democracy, established the feast in 1925 as an antidote to what he saw as the rising secular state.  (He did some good things, not the least of which is his encyclical continuing Leo XIII's teaching on social justice.)  He wanted to stress that the power of Jesus encompassed the whole world and all peoples.  I certainly believe that, but "king" doesn't help.   The Scripture readings for the feast are rich, so maybe I'll find some nourishment there.
This cactus is the picture soaked up sunshine all summer.  Once I brought it inside it set buds.  Like the stores and community celebrations and children, it can't wait for Christmas.  Or maybe it's a Thanksgiving Day cactus.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

St. Paul's Cathedral


My last day in London was another rainy day.  So more inside touring.  I expected St. Paul's Cathedral to be a larger version of Salisbury Cathedral and was disappointed.  But once I readjusted to the very different architecture and saw it as a slightly smaller St. Peter's (in Rome), I very much enjoyed it. 
It was built from 1675 to 1708 after the Great Fire of London.  Very imposing outside and in.  It has the second largest dome in the world, after St. Peter's.  It is not so junked up or broken up as I found Westminster Abby.  I was struck by their willingness to incorporate a beautiful modern sculpture of Madonna and Child.  I couldn't find any good place to be still and pray.
In the crypt there is a long and very helpful "time-line" showing all the important things that have happened in the world in the Cathedral's life time.  I laughed out loud, however, when I saw that they had left out our Revolution.  They included the French Revolution but not a word about the loss of the "colonies."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Horizon of Hope


This gentle sunrise offers the hope, not only that the darkness is overcome, but that the destruction of the heavy snow is ended.  As I drive around now two weeks after, there are still broken branches giving up their tenuous grasp of the trees and drooping further into the roads.  But we know the worst is over.
Apocalyptic literature gives us a horizon of hope.  It intends to assure us that no matter how dark and destructive things look, Jesus has won the war against evil.  There are still some battles being fought and some soldiers hiding in caves, unaware that the war is over.  But Jesus is triumphant.
It strikes me that a good modern comparison to apocalytic literature is science fiction.  No matter how weird and frightening the plot gets we know that the convention requires that good win out over evil.
So what impact do apocalyptic Scripture passages have on my spirituality?  They help me to let go and not be so bothered by the evil in me and around me.  The triumphant Jesus is in me and with us.  His risen life permeates me and our world and is gradually transforming it.  He may use me to bring some good about, but it is his accomplishment, his victory.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Church and Theater


The portico of St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden in London is the first scene in Shaw's Pygmalion and in Lerner and Lowe's musical adaptation My Fair Lady.  I was the stage manager when we did the musical in college.  Since Shaw had insisted that this portico be the opening scene in the musical, I foolishly insisted as well.  The portico was so awkward for our production that the change from this scene to the next took 20 minutes!
The architect of the church designed it to front on this square, but the clergy refused to put the altar  on what they considered the wrong end of the church.  So the entrance to the church is not under the portico but around on the other side.
As I went into the church I immediately felt that I was in a holy place (not always my experience in some of the churches I visited in England.)  The church was empty.  I sat down in the back pew to pray.  Before long I noticed a sanctuary lamp burning up in the right corner.  I went and sat before the Blessed Sacrament and had a profound experience of prayer.
As I got up to leave, I noticed that on the wall where my arm had rested was a placque in memory of Alan Jay Lerner who wrote the lyrics for My Fair Lady.  Below his name and dates was the quote, "one brief shining moment," from Camalot, which he also wrote with Lowe.  I was thrilled with the coincidence and sat down again for a while.
As I walked back down the church I noticed that all along the walls their were similar placques in memory of famous actors and directors and playwrights. I wandered around recognizing names and thanking God for the beauty and pleasure that they had brought into my life and into our world.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Simply Being


I got a needed reminder this morning that being is more important than doing.  I'm reading Richard Rohr's Simplicity.  In a section on contemplation he stresses that our real value depends on who we are, not on what we do.  One of my earliest blogs was about the importance of being.  Six and a half years ago I retired and came here to live a more contemplative life. 
Every once in a while I catch myself wondering whether that's enough.  At a recent dinner with classmates celebrating our 50th anniversary I heard that many were still working,and I know others who are "retired" but are still doing a lot of things.  Occasionally I'll see something that appeals to me and think maybe I could contribute that way. 
But then Rohr reminds me that being is more important than doing.  I got a similar reminder recently when I was without power for five days.  I found out the world could survive without my doing anything.
It's easy to forget that I came here to live a little like a hermit.  Just being.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Divine in Art


One of the main things I planned to do in London was visit the museums.  The National Gallery not only has a great location on Trafalgar Square but a terrific collection, a truly great museum.  So much beauty through almost every historical period.  I spent an afternoon here. 
I was struck by how much more crowded the modern period was than the rest of the museum.  Clearly these artists knew it was time to do something different.  Their paintings speak to people
 today.
It was a great treat to see famous paintings that I knew only from pictures in books.  I think my favorite was Jesus breaking bread for the two disciples at Emmaus by Caravaggio.  The colors and the use of shadows are stunning.  It made one of my favorite Resurrection stories so much more vivid.
I wander through the rooms until I find a painting that hits me.  Then I am always grateful if there is a bench where I can sit and look at it for a while.  For me museums are a spiritual experience, not just because they have religious paintings like Caravaggio's, but because the beauty of the paintings reveal God to me.  They draw me into God.
I am friendly with a painter who does wonderful work.  He claims he doesn't believe in God.  I tell him that's impossible.  Beauty is another name for God.

Monday, November 12, 2012

As Brightly as the Heavens


The dawn sky this morning.  Two nights this week the stars were crystal clear.  The lake was perfectly still.  The stars lay on the water. 
A quote that I've been praying over this week:
"Those who are wise
  will shine as brightly as the heavens,
  and those who lead others in right living
  will be as brilliant as the stars for all eternity.
                                   --Daniel 12:3
I was praying the following as this morning dawned:
Shine your love on us each dawn,
and gladden all our days.
Balance our past sorrows
with present joys
and let your servants, young and old,
see the splendor of your work.
Let your loveliness shine on us,
and bless the work we do,
bless the work of our hands.
                   --Psalm 90:14-17
(ICEL translation, 1994)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thames River


One of my favorite things in London was the Thames River.  I used the boats on the river the way I used the Underground, to get from one place to another.  I like being on the water.  I took this picture from a boat right after one of the many rains.  The rainbow was an extra.  The boats are also a good way to see the city.
I also enjoyed a very pleasant walkway along the river one afternoon between rains.  There were benches, every so often where people could sit and just watch the boats and the river go by.
I walked as much as I could.  The City presumes that you will walk.  They have signs here and there indicating how many minutes it would take to walk to various sites, like Westminster Abby and the Tower of London.  It rained a lot the week I was in London.  My rainjacket  had a hood so I just kept on going, the way the Londoners did.  A few times the rain was so hard that I ducked into the Underground and used it to get where I wanted to go.
Subway in England means a tunnel under a street.  They call the trains the Underground or Tube.  It didn't take long to figure out the map and know where to change trains.  An excellent system.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Soaring Upward


The inside of Salisbury Cathedral is even more beautiful than the outside.  All the lines immediately drew my eyes upward.  Certainly the people who built it thought of heaven and God as up and wanted the building itself to lift their thoughts heavenward.  I find myself thinking of heaven more as another dimension mingled with this one and God within and around me as well as out beyond the stars.
Just inside the church is this very attractive baptismal font with water constantly overflowing from four points.  The abundance of new life that God offers us.  I put my hand in the water and blessed myself and renewed my baptism.
One of the aspects of this cathedral that appealed to me was that it didn't have the clutter of tombs and memorials that others had, like Westminster Abby in London.
Outside to the right is a lovely cloister from which I entered the Chapter House.  Here is displayed one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta (Great Charter) from 1215.  It is significant because it was the beginning of limiting the power of kings, constitutionally guaranteeing that the monarch was not above the law.  And, I suppose you could say, paving the way for our Declaration of Independence from the king.
(to enlarge picture click on it)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Salisbury Cathedral


I stayed in Salisbury only because it was close to Stonehenge, so the cathedral was a wonderful surprise. Not part of my plan.  Of the cathedrals that I visited in England this, I thought, was the most beautiful.  It is the only one I saw that stands out by itself in a lovely green.  The others have buildings crowding around them.  When the inhabitants of Old Sarum decided to move down into the valley near the river to create Salisbury, they were able to set aside this large space for their cathedral.
It is all of a piece.  It was built in 38 years where the other cathedrals usually took more than 100 years.  Everything fits together. 
The place I stayed was, I suspect, a seminary in its day.  It was within the Cathedral Close.  There were about thirty other houses in this area.  Two large gates were locked every evening at 10:30, closing the area off from the rest of Salisbury.  I could walk over to the cathedral in a few minutes.  I especially enjoyed going over in the evening and spending some time in prayer.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Survival Mode


These trees were about 15 feet tall before the blizzard and the hurricane joined forces to beat them down.  By 2:30 PM Monday big flakes of snow were being blown horizontally across the front of my house.  With darkness came thunder and lightning.  A kind of beautiful, eerie scene as lightning lit up the snow blowing and snow already on the ground.
At 12:30 AM Tuesday I was awakened by my door bell.  I jumped from bed to see who was seeking shelter from the storm.  The door bell rang again and the lights went out. Electricity's last hurrah!
I hadn't heated with wood for two winters, but I had enough wood to get started.  Neighbors gave me more wood.  So I kept warm.  I could also do some cooking on the wood stove.  Without electricity the pump for my well doesn't work.  I had drawn a lot of water in jugs for drinking.  I hauled water from the lake to flush the toilets.  No shower.
No TV and internet meant that I had some more hours to read and pray and listen to music (on boom box with batteries.)  I had mellow evenings by candlelight.  One night accompanied by Judy Collins' Who Knows Where the Time Goes, All My Life, Send in the Clowns.
My cell phone kept me connected to friends and family.   Neighbors were a big help. 
My power came on Saturday night at 10:36, after five days without.  For me it had been a kind of exciting challenge, but I was aware that for many poor people in the county it was a critical time.
I thank God for today's brilliant sunshine.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Torn Between Two Worlds


Last week a tree in glory.  This morning all its upper branches have lost their leaves.  Most of the lower ones have turned rust and will hang on until the new leaves come in early summer.  Typical of red oaks.
Autumn is ending today with a bang.  Our mountain county is caught between two weather systems, hurricane from the east and blizzard from the west.  It looks like the blizzard has won, though maybe it is aided by the winds from Sandy.  It started about an hour ago with snow coming straight down mixed with rain.  Within twenty minutes it was big flakes of snow blowing almost horizontally from west to east.
Wednesday my kitchen calendar said, "Trees let go gracefully; can you?"
Friday from Neale D. Walsch the quote was "You cannot let go of anything if you cannot notice that you are holding it."
I hate to let go of summer.  And now autumn.  I wasn't quite ready for a winter blizzard.
(The calendar is from the sisters at MinistryOfTheArts.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bodleian Library


Less than a block up the street from where I was staying is this unique building, the Radcliffe Camera.  "Camera" is the Italian word for "room."  It  was built in 1749 and is now a reading room for the Bodleian Library next door.
The Bodleian, built in 1602, started with 2,000 books.  It now has some 11 million books and 100 miles of shelving, most of it in underground tunnels.  Every book copyrighted in England is deposited here, about 400 a week.  It is a reference library that is used by all of the colleges.  None of the books may be checked out.
Even with a tour guide we were not allowed to see much of the Bodleian Library.  Our tour guide talked so low that most of us could not hear her.  We were allowed in the Divinity School, a very large, beautiful room, on the ground level.  It was used as the infirmary in the Harry Potter films (the above Camera, by the way, was not named after Daniel Radcliffe who plays Harry Potter.)
To be in the presence of such an enormous number of books, even though most of them could not be seen, was an overwhelming experience for me.  I thought of what value we place on authors' ideas  that we would save their books and manuscripts for centuries.  Again my awe of the age of things.  It whetted my appetite for learning.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Oxford's Colleges


I was surprised to find that Oxford University is made up of 38 independent, self-governing colleges, where the teaching takes place.  The University teaches nothing.  It administers the exams.
This is Balliol College, directly across the street from where I stayed.  Most of the colleges look like this from the  streets.  When we went through the gates we saw the quadrangle which was usually a large square lawn surrounded by a walkway.  Each college has its own rooms, dining room, and chapel.
I was tickled to find out that I was living right across the street from the college where some authors studied who greatly influenced my Catholic faith.  Graham Greene's novels helped me to understand that God's grace could work in flawed human beings.  Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry thrills me with God's Grandeur.  Hilaire Belloc's essays were brilliant introductions to things Catholic when I was in college. Ronald Knox's translation of the New Testament gave me new insights into Jesus and his translation of the original manuscript of Therese of Lisieux's journal, with all her warts and blemishes, made her a model for my life.
Among some other favorite authors from Oxford that have influenced me are C.S. Lewis and Oscar Wilde who studied at Magdalene College; Tolkien at Merton College; and Evelyn Waugh at Hertford College.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Christ Church, Oxford


The first place I visited in England was Oxford.  This was a kind of pilgrimage to the place where some of my favorite authors were educated.  As soon as I got settled in my small hotel I went looking for the cathedral.  It is the only cathedral in the world that is also a college chapel.  Henry VIII, a law unto himself, made it so.
This is the gorgeous view that greeted me as I walked through Christ Church College gate.  The garden is a memorial to those who died in war.  In the opposite direction was a quiet meadow with a stream and some cattle grazing.  The dining hall was as grand as a cathedral.  It looked very familiar.  A copy of it was used as the dining hall of Hoggwarts in the Harry Potter movies.
The cathedral is handsome, with a very intricate ceiling.  The present building was constructed by Augustinian monks between 1150-1210.  So on my first day in England I am already experiencing  awe at the age of buildings.
William Penn (Pennsylvania,)  John Wesley (Methodism,) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland) went to Christ Church College.  The day I was there the small museum had a display of Salvador Dali's extraordinary illustrations for an edition of  "Alice in Wonderland."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Deep Roots


In this picture I can see how the lintels fit across the standing stones and how the lintels fit into each by tongue and groove.  Sticking up behind the joined stones is another even taller stone with a carved protuding peg. The lintels in the picture are held securely in place by a hole in them that fits over that kind of peg.  The large standing stones weigh over 40 tons.  The smaller stones that can be seen past the large stones are about 7 feet high.  It is clear that carving, as well as moving, these stones required some skill that we don't usually associate with Stone Age human beings.
One of the turn-ons for me in England and other European countries I have visited is the age of buildings.  It is one source of the awe I feel as I contemplate Stonehenge.
This time in England is the first that I began thinking about the age of families.  I suppose it is possible that some people living in the Salisbury area today are descended from the people who built Stonehenge 5,000 years ago.  I have been impressed by the fact that my father's mother's family have been in this area since 1790.  While in England I began to imagine what it would be like to live in a town that your family had lived in since the coming of Christianity, or since Druid times, or since the time that Stonehenge was built.  The sense of owning the land would be very powerful.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stonehenge


My spiritual experience at Stonehenge was second only to my profound experience at Canterbury.   It was so simple to get to from Salisbury.  I walked over to the bus station, got on the bus, bought a ticket that included entry to the field, and arrived shortly in a parking area.  It seemed so prosaic that I began to think that it might not be a very intense experience.
I have been fascinated by Stonehenge since I first heard about it maybe 30 years ago.  Before leaving home I read a novel called "Stonehenge."   Bernard Cornwell, the author, had studied well the theories about how and why Stonehenge had been built.  He composed an interesting fiction around its building.  I'm convinced, along with most, that it was a temple to the Sun God.  It is a holy place.
In his book "The Experience of God," Raimon Panikkar points out that the sun is accepted universally, even by Catholics, as a symbol for Divinity.  The origin of the word God is Sanskrit, Dyau, which means "day."  It suggests brilliance, light.  Light gives life and makes it possible to see. 
I spent two hours, walking three times around the stone circle: first just taking pictures, then listening to the taped explanation, and finally simply finding God in the stones and in their arrangement.  I felt connected back through 5,000 years to the people, so unlike me, who were in such awe of the Sun that they went to physical extremes to bring the stones from a distance and get them into this arrangement.  This impulse to honor some Ultimate Power seems part of our human makeup.  I was quietly drawn into worship.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Servant Leadership


Mark 10:35-45 throws light for me on one of the Second Vatican Council's most important teachings.  Jesus tries to teach the disciples that leadership among his followers is not to be like that of the rulers they know, lording it over their subjects and making their authority felt.  He offers himself as the model of Christian leadership: not to be served but to serve.
The Council describes a servant church.  Both laity and clergy make up the People of God, a communion of believers.  The image is that of concentric circles with the Bishop of Rome in the center, encircled by the other bishops, and then the laity. 
In Mark's Gospel the disciples don't get it and not many centuries later we see church leaders "lording it over" the laity and "making their authority felt."  One speaker at the conference said that for about twenty years after the Council, Rome seemed to have got it.  Since that time, however, he described an even greater centralizing of authority in the Roman Curia.
Jesus says, "It must not be so among you.  Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vatican II at 50


I had been hoping for a way to observe the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962.  So October 11-12, I went to Georgetown University in D.C. for a conference, "Vatican II After Fifty Years: Dialogue and Catholic Identity."  It was excellent.
There were six speakers who presented different aspects of the Council.  Threading through all was a common theme that because of the Vatican Council dialogue has become an essential part of Catholic identity.  Jesuit John O'Malley gave the opening talk, describing dialogue and tracing its development.  A few years ago I had read his book, "What Happened at Vatican II?" and found it extremely enlightening.
Massimo Faggioli, a young Italian layman, now living in the United States, gave the most fascinating talk, "The Battle Over Gaudium et Spes - Dialogue with the Modern World."  The Latin name of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World means "Joy and Hope."  The document shows a clear openness to the 20th century, to the dimensions of human culture opened up by advances in the historical, social, and psychological sciences.  He pointed out that there were some present who were not as open to the 20th century as the document was, but it was still accepted by more than 2,000 of the 2,500  bishops present.  He ended by saying that if we ignore Gaudium et Spes, we will have neither joy nor hope.
I found the conference hope-filled and energizing.
(The picture above is of the intricate ceiling of one of the rooms in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, one the the places I visited on my recent trip to England.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

S-Temple


I drove yesterday with two friends along Stemple Ridge to enjoy autumn's colors spread over the most spectacular mountain views in our neck of the woods.  Every turn brings a scene more beautiful than the last, God's revelation deepening as we keep searching.
I discovered this ridge about ten years ago on my way back from one of my many sight-seeing trips into nearby West Virginia.  Driving up a narrow mountain road by myself I kept getting glimpses of mountains reaching into the distance.  When I got to the top, I took a left on another road to see if I could get a better view.  The scene in the picture above was the one I came upon, though that day was full summer, not fall.  When I turned and followed this ridge towards home, I found striking view after striking view.   Since this drive is so close to where I live, I was surprised that no one had ever told me about it.  I have since told many people about it and taken friends there to show it to them.
I kept forgetting the name until I realized that by dropping the "S" I would get the word for the house of God.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Holy Places


St. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 597.  Two years earlier when Pope Gregory the Great sent him as a missionary to England he told Augustine, "Do not pull down the temples.  Destroy the idols; purify the temples with holy water, set relics there and let them become temples of the true God.  So the people will have no need to change their places of gathering."
When Augustine built his cathedral at Canterbury, it doesn't seem to have been the site of an earlier temple, but there are other churches in England and Ireland and in other parts of the world that are built on sites of pagan worship. That worship would have made the site a holy place.  "Holy" means set aside for God.  Or possibly the pagans themselves chose the site because they sensed a special other-worldly air about it.
Pope Gregory's advice reminds me that Catholic means finding God in many different ways and in many different places.
This picture was taken in the crypt of the cathedral.  It is the remains of an earlier Romanesque church upon which the present cathedral was built.  The sculpture that seems  to float in the air is made of nails and hangs over the spot where St. Thomas a Becket's body was originally enshrined before it was taken up in 1220 to the newly built Trinity Chapel.  (Clicking on the picture enlarges it and makes it possible to see the floating body.)

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Old Canterbury


The first cathedral built on this site was built in 597 by St. Augustine of Canterbury who had been sent by the pope as a missionary to England.  Several cathedrals have been built and rebuilt on this site since then.  Most of the present cathedral was finished in 1077
St. Thomas a Becket was murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170.  Almost immediately the site became a center of pilgrimage.  Already in 1184 Trinity Chapel was added to the cathedral behind the high altar to accomodate a shrine that held the body of St. Thomas.  The stained glass windows in the above picture were built at that time.  They depict miracles and stories associated with St. Thomas.  The shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538.  Fortunately these splendid windows were not.
These dates thrill me.  To be able to walk around in a 900 year old church and contemplate 800 year old stained glass windows, I'm sure added to the profound prayer experience that I described two entries ago.  Stained glass has always lifted my heart.  Living in a nation where "old" is 200 years inspires the awe I feel in a building as old as Canterbury Cathedral.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Canterbury Cathedral


In England I found myself resenting the fact that all these grand, old, cathedrals that were once Catholic were now Anglican.  It seemed to me that Catholics weren't noticed much.  When I went to the Tourist Information Office in Canterbury and asked the young lady where the Catholic church was, she was very taken aback and finally recovered enough to say, "I don't think there is one."  A man working the same desk came over and told me where it was, and added, "It's the only Catholic church in Canterbury."
I found myself in sympathy with the disciples in Mark's Gospel the Sunday I came home.  They want Jesus to stop a man who is healing in the name of Jesus, "because he does not follow with us."
I heard Jesus say to me, as well as to them, "Why would you want to stop them! Whoever is not against us is for us."  A good guide for working for Christian Unity.
In each of the Anglican churches that I visited, I was able to find a quiet corner where I could sit and pray.  Finding God in other churches and in the people of other denominations can bring us a long way toward unity.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Canterbury Pilgrimage

 

I went to England recently for two weeks.  My main goal was a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral.  I was not disappointed.
The lighted candle in this picture marks the spot where a shrine containing St. Thomas a Becket's body stood for several centuries before Henry VIII destroyed it.  The picture looks down the main aisle of  Canterbury Cathedral towards the entrance. 
Not far from this spot in the 12th century Thomas, the archbishop, was murdered during vespers by four knights from King Henry II's court.  Almost immediately the cathedral became a very popular place of pilgrimage.  I was pleased to be a pilgrim among the 800 years of pilgrims who flocked here.
Near the lighted candle I found a quiet corner where I could sit and pray.  God drew me into some time of deep prayer.  Before leaving the cathedral I asked St.Thomas to pray for the healing of my many small infirmities.  I also prayed that I might know when to stand and when to fold, when to follow my conscience and speak truth to authority and when to let go of an issue and keep my peace.
The night before last I watched the old movie "Becket" with Richard Burton as the archbishop and Peter O'Toole as Kind Henry II, two powerful actors.  The movie extended my pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Who do you say that I am?


My bougainvillea aglow with morning light.  I tried to grow one once before and failed.  This one has flourished.  The first winter I brought it in, it was full of blossoms.  Last winter not so much.  It has gotten so big it almost demands its own room.  I like the way this picture seems to hint at an inner light.
So I thought it might be appropriate to help me pray about Mark 8:27-30 in which Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"  They don't see him glowing with Divinity.  Jesus looks like a merely human being to his disciples, though there is something about him that attracts them.  In Mark's Gospel they never quite understand him.  In this passage Jesus forces the issue by asking them what they think of him.
I have often taken this question very personally.  I can get caught up in the whole Catholic religion thing and the politics of the institution and lose track of who is at the heart of it.  Hearing Jesus ask me, "Who do you say that I am?" pushes me to look once more at what he means to me.  Completely
human and completely divine.  I guess my simplest answer is "Everything! You mean everything to me."