Wednesday, January 25, 2012



This is ruin of the synagogue at Capernaum. When we stood in it we were told it was the synagogue that Jesus attended. I could imagine Jesus' expelling the "unclean spirit."
Since coming home I have read that it is from the second century! And more recently I read it was from the 5th century! What scholars seem to agree on is that it is the best preserved synagogue in Israel. It is made of marble and is very beautiful inside as well as outside.
It looks to me that Mark (1:21-28) intends this incident of expelling the "unclean spirit" to be the first "skirmish" in the war that Jesus wages against evil. Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark doesn't have the three temptations in the desert. In 1:13 all Mark says is "He was in the wilderness for forty days, tested by Satan." It's as if Mark wants to highlight the opposition of the Holy One of God against this unclean spirit as the first of many battles.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012



This ultra-modern church is in Capernaum. It looks like a space ship hovering over the ground. If I understand it rightly, it is built over the remains of a fifth century church, which itself is built over the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. As brothers, they would have lived with their extended families in buildings surrounding a courtyard. Mark 1:29-30 has Peter's mother-in-law living there.
Capernaum, which is on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, has a large sign proclaiming itself the home of Jesus. He made this his center of operation in Galilee. He seems to have lived with Peter and Andrew's family. Mark 2:1, in some translations, refers to it as Jesus' home. Other translations say he was "in the house."
Inside the church, there is a large glass covered opening in the center of the floor that enabled us to see down into the ruins of the church and the home. Even here in my own home so far from Capernaum, it feels good to have been so connected to a place where Jesus lived and worked and relaxed.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

Be quiet; leave this man.

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This morning the Lake started melting again. I took this picture before I knew that there are nine swans on the ice in the middle of the picture. Later, as I sat down to meditate, I saw them. About noon they took flight almost due east. I couldn't enlarge the picture enough to see more than some black dots.
I meditated on Mark's story about Jesus and the man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28). A few verses earlier Jesus had said "The Reign of Love is at hand." In this passage he begins immediately to extend that Reign of Love, "Be quiet; leave this man." The power of Love expels the unclean spirit from the man and underlines the authority with which Jesus preaches.
It took a while to think about what this had to say to me. I have never known anyone who was possessed. Then I remembered being so unsure of reality at one point in my thirties that I almost felt like I was possessed. I certainly didn't feel like I was myself. I am very grateful that Jesus used a psychologist and a few friends to expel that "unclean spirit."

Friday, January 20, 2012

Intensifying Beauty


It was fun walking in the 7-8 inches of very light snow that we got through the night. Beauty everywhere.
Haught says that evolution is aiming to maximize beauty or what Darwin called "grandeur" in the universe. Evolution has brought about human beings endowed with consciousness, self-awareness, freedom, moral sensitivity, ability to enjoy beauty, and the instinct to worship. Haught sees these as ways that nature intensifies beauty.
He points out that human beings can contribute in our own small way to intensify the world's beauty. I think of artists, poets, writers, composers, and movie makers adding to the world's beauty. I think of the pictures I capture and the care I take to write well. And all the paintings on my walls and statues and carvings and stained glass, surrounding myself with beauty created by human beings.
God is not interested in perpetuating the status quo but in luring the universe to become more than what it is by intensifying, not only beauty, but the human capacity to enjoy this beauty.
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Thursday, January 19, 2012



The image of God drawing us into the future rather than pushing us from the past, which I find so attractive, is from a book that I'm reading by John F. Haught called "Making Sense of Evolution:Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life." I think a better understanding of evolution will help me to grow in my understanding and love of God.
Haught criticizes the evolutionary atheists who think that if God existed the design of evolution would be perfect. There would not be the "waste and waywardness" that is seen in evolution.
Haught says that God works, not in the manner of an architect or engineer, but of a dramatist who allows the characters to take on lives of their own. He notes that evolution shows us that "the general drift of life has been in the direction of increasing complexity, consciousness, and freedom." Nature is freed from a mindless and lifeless determinism. "The God of boundless love revealed in Jesus influences nature by way of attraction rather than force." The purpose of the "evolutionary drama" is to intensify creation's beauty.
Evolution points to an adventurous God who loves surprises.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Reign of Love


What a rollercoaster of weather this week has been (this winter, for that matter). I took this picture just before sunrise on Monday with the temperature at 12 degrees. Tuesday afternoon it was 50 degrees and pouring rain. All the snow in this picture melted, as well as the frozen lake. Now, noon on Wednesday, it is 25 degrees and the lake is freezing again,and there is a scattering of snow everywhere.
As I walked in the bitter wind this morning, I continued my thinking about the Kingdom of God, thinking which I began Sunday evening. It seems that the Kingdom of God is the heart of Jesus' preaching in word and deed. The first words of Jesus in Mark's Gospel are, "Now is the time of fulfillment; and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and belive in the Good News."
The Greek word that is translated "kingdom" is more accurately translated "reign." It means the act of ruling, not the place over which the king rules. I have recently started to call God "Spirit of Love," following John's letter that says "God is Love." So, I hear Jesus saying that the Reign of Love is at hand. This Reign of Love had been going on before Jesus, but now it has come to fulfillment.
Love reigns, not by force, but by attraction. Love gives life and meaning to the world not by pushing it forward from the past, but by calling it into the freshness of an always new future. Love intensifies the beauty of Love's creation.
My response to this Reign of Love is faith and a change of heart. I surrender to Love in faith and let Love draw me into a more and more loving way of life.
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Sunday, January 8, 2012

After the Epiphany


This cactus has rarely bloomed in the winter. Right before Christmas I saw the buds setting and moved it to a sunnier spot. An Epiphany cactus.
I got out T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" this evening and read it. It's an old favorite. The first and longest part of the poem is a vivid description of their journey by one of the Magi. He concludes:
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
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Friday, January 6, 2012

Twelfth Night


This is the way last evening that Mother Nature chose to top off the Twelve Days of Christmas!
Today, the old date of Epiphany, I want to do some more thinking about the journey of the Magi. When I read the story of the Magi I am reading the story of my own life-long quest for the Living God. When I think of God as Beyond, I don't mean that God will always elude me.
God doesn't lead the Magi by the star to Bethlehem only to say, "Well, you still have another fifty miles to go." They find God in the Child. Then what? We hear no more about them except "they go home by another way." James Taylor has written an intriguing song about how things will be different for them after this experience.
The yearning within me for freedom, for goodness, for bliss, for more, is the star that stirs me up and sets me on the journey. I am always sure that a little further up the trail, around the next turn, the view will be better.
What might hold me back? There are people who think it's too risky to go on such a quest. There are religious leaders, like the scribes in Jerusalem, that know the way to Bethlehem but won't go there. Who am I to make the journey? There is a star in my heart that tells me that "this" isn't all there is, that entices me to go searching for more. I need take only one step and God will take a thousand so that we can come together.
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Risking the Quest


I took this picture in Petra in the country of Jordan which is east of Bethlehem. Magi came from the East. Let's say they stopped off in Petra, which was on the great trade routes. Their camels are resting while they've gone off to buy gold and frankincense and myrrh and maybe some food for the rest of the journey.
One aspect of Matthew's story that I have found rich for meditation this year is the journey. "From the East" is all Matthew says. He seems to want us to think of a distant East, places like present day Iraq and Iran and the Arabian desert. I think of what kind of courage and determination and imagination it would have taken to set out on such a quest. The risk of leaving the familiar and moving out into the unfamiliar in search of something more, their hopes pinned on a star.
They didn't just get into a bus as we did on our pilgrimage. Travel then involved hardships and dangers. They would have suffered the scorn and derision of those who dismissed them with a shrug and stayed comfortably in their homes. Finally they met with the fear and suspicion of King Herod and his crowd.
The Magi challenge me to stay on the quest. Never to be satisfied that I know all there is to know about God. Always to be ready to risk leaving the familiar ways of thinking about the Divine and to search for the "Nameless Beyond." Following a star.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Nativity Scenes


This is one of several Nativity scenes that I have. A friend who is from Munich recommended that, while I was there, I visit the Bavarian National Museum to see their collection of creches. There are about sixty, various styles and sizes, some with more than 100 figures. Most were collected by the same man who donated them to the museum. My time looking at them became a kind of prayerful reflection.
It got me thinking about how much I loved the Nativity figures that my family had when I was a little child. My parents let me start playing with them before Christmas. I would move them around, pretending that Mary and Joseph were travelling to Bethlehem, that the shepherds were out on a hillside, and that the Magi were travelling from the East. As I wandered among those in the museum, I wondered whether playing with the figures as a child was one of the ways that God drew me to religion.
I have been collecting Nativity scenes through the years. Before I went to the museum I had been thinking about giving them away, but after reflecting about how important they were to me in my growing, I decided to keep them. One set has about 40 figures that were given to me by friends and family over the years. I have a number of just Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, like the colorful set in the picture. I bought two hand carved wooden Holy Families while I was in Germany to give as gifts, but they are still on display in my room where I do my morning prayers.
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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Joy-filled New Year


This is a miniature tangerine plant that was given to me more than thirty years ago as a 6 inch tall plant. Through the years I have repotted and pruned it. It has been producing blossoms that are sweet-smelling like orange blossoms and then individual fruits. As is evident, this past year it outdid itself. When I brought it in at the end of the summer and put it in a south facing window it was already starting to develop fruit in bunches. While the fruit was still growing, more blossoms began to appear and scent the room. When the tangerines turned orange, I thought they looked like Christmas tree decorations, so I put some lights on the tree. It is a beautiful and abundant demonstration of the value of pruning.
As I looked back over the events of 2011 to see what they might have to tell me about the Old Year and the New Year, there was a lot of negative stuff. But I still found myself full of joy. While the negative stuff was happening, I was also finding new ways to think about God and heaven that made them seem incredibly close. The value of pruning?! The joy springs from that growing feeling of closeness.
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