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 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."