Thursday, April 24, 2014
These daffodils by the Lake today are almost a month later than usual. They push up through sticks and the remains of last summer's lilies.
I woke during the night and picked up District and Circle, a book of poetry by Seamus Heaney. I am never sure, but I think in one poem he is describing his awakening to life and maybe to God. He describes the cutting and turning of peat to dry in the sun. Then he goes on to speak of himself: "...once I felt the air I was like turned turf in the breath of God."
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
I've been hearing rumors about Corridor H in West Virginia for many years, but it didn't seem like it would ever be of use to me. Recently some friends told me that some new sections had been finished that brought it from Interstate 81 to Bismarck, W.V., not too far from where I live. It is Route 48.
Since I use Dulles Airport I got so excited about it yesterday afternoon that I drove over to Bismarck and got on it and drove to Moorefield, W.V. which took only 25 minutes. The views were magnificent, an elegant bit of road building. Parts of West Virginia that I had never seen. I guess much of it was seen only by people who lived in the small towns in these mountains.
Much of the westernmost part of the road is also finished, but the sections from Bismarck west to at least Parsons are not.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Another picture of Friday's glorious sunset. This is one of the first pictures I took that evening. I came back in the house, but the sunset wouldn't quit. I put on a coat and went back out. That's when I got the picture I used Saturday. That time I stayed out until the sky faded into darkness.
I've been reading about John 20:19-31 and meditating on it.
Father Raymond Brown says that Jesus' saying "Peace to you" goes beyond a greeting. It is rather a statement that Jesus' Resurrection has brought them peace. At the Last Supper he had said to the disciples, "Peace is my farewell to you; my peace is my gift to you; and I do not give it to you as the world gives it. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)" Jesus repeats, "Peace," as he sends the disciples as the Father has sent him.
The peace that Jesus is talking about is not the absence of war or conflict. His Easter gift to the disciples and to us is an abiding sense of well being, a deep contentment that springs from our conviction that the Risen Jesus lives within us and is caring for us, looking out for us, protecting us. We have no reason to be troubled or afraid. We experience profound rest in his love for us and our love for him. Our peace in the Risen Jesus is enlarged by our awareness that all others are experiencing the same deep contentment. As faith deepens peace blossoms.
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Last night's sunset, a fitting end for the Friday that we call Good. Maybe an Easter sunset service might capture the glory.
None of the four Gospel writers describe the actual Resurrection, but if any of them were going to it would have been Matthew. His account of the Empty Tomb (28:1-10) has more dramatic events than any of the others. He wishes to show that the Resurrection is of cosmic importance, shaking the foundations of the world and affecting those long dead. He uses typical apocalyptic imagery to symbolize that the power of God has intervened definitively in the tomb of Jesus.
The Resurrection itself could not be described. It was an event that touched the other world beyond time and space. When Matthew's angel rolls back the stone, it's not to let Jesus out of the tomb, but to show that Jesus is no longer in the tomb.
I used to imagine Jesus bursting out of the tomb. But let's suppose that while Jesus lay dead in the darkness of the tomb his Father drew him body and soul into that other world beyond time and space. Jesus in all his humanity becomes alive in a totally new way that enables him to move back and forth between worlds. That's why he can appear as if from nowhere to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and later to the other disciples.
That's why he can live in us and in our whole cosmos, gathering all into God and filling us and our world with an Easter joy beyond imagining.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Maybe the greatest experience of art that I had last year was the exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City titled "Chagall: Love, War, and Exile." I wrote about it here last November 14, but this Good Friday I am revisiting it through the book I bought at that time.
A Jew, born in Russia, Chagall ended up in the United States to escape Hitler's persecution of the Jews. To express his concern for the Jews who were being killed in Europe he painted more than 25 pictures of the Crucifixion. He stressed the Jewishness of Jesus and used his Crucifixion as a symbol of what was happening to the Jews in the concentration camps. He commented, "My Christ, as I depict him, is always the type of the Jewish martyr, in pogroms and in our other troubles, and not otherwise."
Among the many explanations of his art on the walls of the exhibit was this: "The Crucifixion images were not an expression of Christian theology. For him the cross was a symbol of persecution and oppression rather than a sign of redemption and hope." That's a very succinct expression of what the Cross means to us. Their were two paintings that I thought came very close to expressing redemption and hope.
One of them is the picture (above) which Chagall titled "Exodus." While it was not the most beautiful painting in the exhibit, it held for me the deepest meaning. A large Christ is leading the Jewish people across the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Moses holding the Tablets of the Commandments is almost out of the scene in the lower right hand corner. Jesus is pictured with a halo and is surrounded by light, more as the triumphant Christ of John's Passion account rather than as the suffering Christ of Matthew's Passion.
We Christians use the Exodus as a prototype of Jesus leading us out of slavery to sin into the promised land of new life. Redemption and hope.
This is an extraordinarily clear picture of a dove outside my window. Peace!? (Click on it to enlarge it)
I had planned to use the powerful picture of Pope Francis washing the feet of imprisoned young people last Holy Thursday, that the Jesuits have been using as part of their vocation appeal. I could not get it to show up properly on the blog. I gave up, but today I thought I might at least include part of my reflections from yesterday.
This Holy Thursday Francis went to a home for elderly and disabled and washed the feet of twelve people: 9 Italians, a Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde, and an Ethiopian woman, some of them with feet that were swollen and disfigured. He washed and dried and kissed their feet and explained that Jesus had made a gesture, the job of a slave, a servant, and left us this inheritance. "We need," the Pope said, "to be servants to one another." Seeing this on TV or the internet is an enormous challenge to search out the forgotten ones.
Jesus wants to touch the hurting people of our world. He can do it now only through us and only if we take to heart his command, "You also ought to wash one another's feet."
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
22 degrees this morning and snow on the ground. This goose hesitated for the longest while, torn between two worlds, one cold, the other colder.
Today is the feast of St. Bernadette. I am going soon to Lourdes, France, where she saw visions of Our Lady. The movie, The Song of Bernadette, had a big influence on my heart as a boy. I will watch it again tonight.
I wonder if Lourdes will be one of those places where even the air seems holy. The Irish are not the only ones who refer to such places as "thin places," where the "membrane" separating this world and the next world is so thin that sometimes the Divine breaks through. If we think of the other world woven into and through this world, it's not such a stretch to think that there are places where we are more apt to sense the Presence.
The strongest experience of a Holy Place that I have had was Assisi. I have often told people that I wasn't sure St Francis made the place holy or the place made him holy. The first "thin place" I experienced was the shrine of the Holy Child (Santo Nino) in Chimayo, New Mexico. A holy well in western Ireland and inside the passage grave of Newgrange were places where I felt God's presence. Chichen Itza on the Yucatan and Stonehenge in England had a similar feel about them.
Matthew in his Gospel, especially in his account of the Passion and of the Resurrection, is focused on how the Divine breaks through into this world. Earthquake and lightening and the Temple curtain torn in two and the dead seen all around the city. Daily prayer sharpens our senses so we can experience the Divine when and where Holiness happens.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
I passed here on Sunday and these had hardly a bud. Monday morning I got this picture. Now they are covered with snow! It has been snowing all afternoon. Some of it is laying on bushes and grass. But Easter is still coming. They are the same daffodils whose picture I took on March 22, 2012, and used in this blog several posts ago.
The Resurrection of Christ is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that God's fire already burns in the innermost depths of our world and that everything and everyone is being reshaped gradually, imperceptibly into his image, transformed slowly, but ever so surely by the same new life so evident in the Risen Christ.
Even if sometimes, even if frequently, life on the surface still seems unchanged, dim and dreary and dark, the bursting forth of Jesus from death into new life is a powerful, dazzling signal that in our innermost center good had triumphed over evil.
I came across the above today in my handwriting, but most of it is not mine. I'm guessing it's a quote from Teilhard de Chardin, but I can't find it in his quotes on line. Maybe I wrote it years ago in a trance!
Friday, April 11, 2014
Ever faithful Colt's Foot is the first flower of springtime in our neighborhood. (yesterday's crocuses were in a nearby town.) Click on picture to enlarge.
Matthew writes that after the death of Jesus: "There were many women there looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (27:55-56)" Matthew concludes his description of the burial of Jesus with the information: "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (27:61)" It is the same two who come to the tomb on Easter morning (Mt.28:1.)
Their faithfulness shines in the face of fear. When everyone else had deserted Jesus, only these women remain.
Thursday, April 10, 2014
Crocuses showing off in a friend's yard on this sunny 60 degree day. I tried to get a shot without the shadow of a bush on the left and couldn't. Now that I see it enlarged, I'm pleased. I see Good Friday and Easter.
Sitting out in the sun I prayed this afternoon about the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-56.) In the whole scene what jumps out at me, and I suppose at a lot of people, is the cry, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!" Matthew's community would have recognized this as the first line of Psalm 22 and know it had a happy ending. Good Friday into Easter.
In the last third with profound confidence the psalmist prays:
"The Lord never scorns the afflicted,
never looks away, but hears their cry....
My soul lives for the Lord!
My children will serve,
will proclaim God to the future,
announcing to peoples yet unborn,
Since there were no books in the time of Jesus, he and his fellow Jews would have memorized large portions of their Scriptures. I would not be surprised if he knew all the psalms by heart. Matthew's community was made up largely of Jews who were convinced, now that the Temple was destroyed, that the way of Jesus was the best way to be true to their Jewish heritage. So Matthew goes to great lengths throughout his Gospel to show Jesus fulfilling the Jewish Scriptures.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
This is the Mount of Olives, just outside the east wall of Jerusalem. Much of it now is graves. I suppose that in the time of Jesus most of it was covered with olive trees like the area in the left corner of the picture. This is where Jesus went with his disciples after the Last Supper and where he prayed in agony that God would take away his cup of suffering (Mt. 26:36-46.) Because the Gospels tell us he withdrew from his disciples to pray, most of us have imagined him in splendid isolation. Paintings picture the scene that way as well.
Just yesterday, however, I read that at the time of the Passover the population of Jerusalem doubled because of all the pilgrims from around the country. They could not all find lodging, so the Mount of Olives would have been one big campsite for many of the pilgrims. Jesus and his disciples would have had to find space in the crowd.
The second time in Matthew that Jesus prays he says, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." Those last four words are from the Our Father that Jesus taught his disciples earlier in the Gospel. They are the motivation that underlies all that Matthew is about to describe in his account of the Passion. Acting on behalf of all mankind, Jesus conforms his will to that of his Father, as he goes to his suffering and death. Jesus lives in us and can help us to do the same. We pray with him, "Your will be done."
Friday, April 4, 2014
I want to show you this loon who comes briefly every spring and fall on his travels. (Clicking on the image enlarges it and shows his beautiful markings.)
This Sundays reading from Ezekiel 37:12-14 is commenting on the remarkable story, that immediately precedes it, of the field of dry bones. God orders the prophet to command the dry bones to be human beings once again. Gradually they come together and grow flesh and the Lord says to them, "I will put breath into you, and you shall live again." Originally this was a metaphor for the revival of Judea after the exile, but in the years before Jesus, as some Jews came to believe in the resurrection of the body, it was seen as a prediction of that survival.
It comments beautifully on Sunday's second reading about the Spirit of God and of Jesus within us and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The passage enlarges the promise, "I will put My breath into you and you shall live again." That we live now with the very breath of God is astonishing.
Thursday, April 3, 2014
Yesterday's dawn tries to break through the darkness.
Dylan Thomas has a poem to his dying father that I have long liked. It ends:
"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Death is not our friend. It is the enemy that has been vanquished by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead acts out that message.
I have only recently come upon Mary Oliver's poem "When Death Comes." While she calls death a bear, measle-pox, and an iceberg, she appreciates its mystery:
"When death comes...
I want to step through the door, full of curiosity, wondering."
Near the end of the poem the thought of dying makes her determined to make something of her life:
"When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world in my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find my self sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."
Jesus makes it possible for us to carry into that other world all the amazement and beauty that we create in this world, and the merry life of the Trinity that we begin here.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
As the setting sun moves further north its rays make this threeinone glass piece sparkle.
In just a few verses in Romans (8:9-11) St. Paul has us entwined with the Trinity. The Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ have come to stay in us and play in us and catch us up into their eternal dance. He says that the Spirit of the One who raised Christ from the dead is living in us for good.
In several current religious writings I have noticed a seeming reluctance to speak of God or Jesus living within us. The authors talk of them "with us" or "by our side." For me thinking of God or Jesus or the Spirit within me helps me realize just how intimate my relationship is with them. This passage pulls us into that dynamic Love that is the Trinity.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
We send flowers when somebody dies. I'm guessing that way back this would have been to cover the stench. Now they add beauty and life in the presence of death. The funeral director brings many of them to the grave. For many years in my experience the mourners threw flowers onto the casket in the grave. I don't know when the custom switched to mourners' taking flowers off the casket and taking them home, but it is well established now.
As we reflect on Jesus' raising Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:1-44) we can be thankful for our faith in the afterlife. At the end of the Apostles' Creed we say we believe in "life everlasting." In this Gospel Jesus says, "I AM the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live...." In the preface for the funeral Mass we pray, "Life is changed not ended."
I try to imagine what it must feel like not to have this faith in Jesus that carries us into another kind of life. I can't. Life beyond death is so much a part of my world view that my imagination can't settle for a blank. My Irish awareness of the other world woven into and through this world enriches my Christian faith. The closeness I feel to family and friends who have died is who I am.