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


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


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
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.