Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Naming God

God appearing to Moses in the Burning Bush is the story I value most in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:1-15.)  It gives us a good insight into Who God is and at the same time helps us to realize that no name is adequate for Ultimate Reality.
Moses is experiencing God in a Burning Bush.  Like God fire cannot be grasped.  It is powerful and gives light; but it is insubstantial.  We can't get hold of flames.
God is telling Moses to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and Moses is trying to get out of the job.  He says to God, "If I tell them You sent me, who will I say sent me?"
I find it significant that there are several suggestions about how God's response is to be translated and what it means.  Robert Alter in his excellent translation of The Five Books of Moses thinks the best translation of the Hebrew is "I-Will-Be-Who-I-Will-Be."  He says it could also be "I Am That I Am" or "I Am He Who Endures." 
Of the many meanings that scholars have suggested, the one that I find most appealing is that God is really refusing to give Moses a name.  God is saying in effect, "Just be content to know that I will be who I will be.  You have no word in your human language that would name me in any adequate way, so just know that I will be who I will be."
Jews have accepted the phrase as God's proper name and out of respect do not pronounce it in Hebrew.  I find it a valuable reminder that God is always beyond our very best imaginings.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

God's Brilliance

       God's brillaince fills the skies,
       his grandeur lights the earth.
       It blazes with a blinding flame
       that conceals God's might
                            (Habakkuk 3:3-4)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Practice that Sticks

The view from where we stayed on vacation made it impossible to ignore God. (Clicking on the picture enlarges it.)  Every morning, facing this view, I sat in prayer.  Centering prayer is a Lenten practice that spilled over to become a part of my daily life.
In 1979 I had overheard two priests talking about centering prayer.  I made a retreat that fall in which the retreat masters recommended it.  Then on an Ash Wednesday day of reflection in 1980, I was browsing in the retreat house bookstore and came across a book, Daily We Touch Him, which turned out to be about centering prayer.  I surrendered!  I read the "how to" chapter and started that day, determined to make it my Lenten practice.  Centering prayer turned out to be the kind of prayer that suited me perfectly.  I continued it beyond Lent.  I studied it further.  It has become as much a part of my daily life as eating and sleeping. 
I think the best kind of Lenten practice is like that.  We don't want to become more aware of God just for 40 days and then drift back into the way we were before Lent.  During this season Jesus takes us with him up the mountain to pray.  When we come down from the mountain he is more than willing to keep us with him in prayer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Transfiguration Prayer Experience

Luke presents the Transfiguration (9:28-36) as a prayer experience.  Mark presents it as a revelation of the hidden Messiah and Matthew as the manifestation of the new and greater Moses.  They don't mention prayer.  Luke says that Jesus "took with him Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.  And it happened that, as he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white."
Luke's account makes me think that this is a mystical experience for Jesus, and perhaps for the apostles present.  The Greek doesn't make it clear whether they are asleep or fighting sleep.  Jesus experiences his Father's presence in so strong a way that he becomes splendid, brilliant.
As the radiance seems to be fading, Peter wants to make it last by building something to contain it.  When we have these kinds of direct experiences of the Divine, we often wish we could hang onto them.
The Cloud envelops them  The cloud was the Presence of God that accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert. The apostles are in awe as they hear the Father's voice from the Cloud, "This is my Son, the Chosen One.  Listen to him."  The image of a cloud helps us to think how difficult it is to grasp God, how the experience of God so often eludes us.  At the same time we want to lose ourselves in God.
The picture is a view from a mountain in West Virginia.  A mountain top is often a place where I become vividly aware of God.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Continual Conversion

We saw several rainbows when we were in the Caribbean.  This one points to Marigot, the capital of St. Martin.
In Genesis the rainbow is a promise to Noah that God is not yet finished with the human race.  None of us is a finished product.  Unfortunately the word "adult" is from the Latin past participle which means "grown."  Too many of us think we are done.  You can't teach an old dog new tricks. 
Lent is a call to conversion.  Many years ago, someone asked me what turning back to God might mean for her because she didn't think she had ever turned away from God.
No matter where we are in our relationship with God, God can always deepen that relationship.  Just as we have no word or concept that completely captures the Divine, there is always more of God for us to get to know.  There is always room for our hearts to expand in our embrace of God. Lent is a call to continual conversion.
The rainbow reminds us that God is not finished with us.  We are still in process.  The word "adolescent" is from the Latin present participle, "growing."  May we all be always adolescents.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Pope's Retirement

Sunset the evening after I returned from the Caribbean.  We have seldom seen anything as dramatic as this in the islands.   The sun just goes down.
On vacation we were speculating one day about the next pope, never dreaming that we would get the dramatic news not long after we returned home that he was resigning.  I admire Pope Benedict for doing this.  I wish we could call it "retirement" as I did in the title.  Resignation sounds too much like quitting before a job is done.  Retirement recognizes that one doesn't have the stamina to continue doing a good job.  I hope it also sets a precedent.  I wonder if that was his intent.
The announcement has been the occasion for lots of blistering criticisms and gentle evaluations.  And for prayers for Pope Benedict as he leaves and for the new person who is coming.  I pray that the Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of the cardinals to give us someone who loves the world and who believes in the Vatican Council.