17 December 2018

O Adonai


O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
The way the last Antiphon connected with the 12 Steps drew me back again today as I mediated on O Adonai. I see an overlap in Step Three, and then Steps Four and Five tie in nicely.
  • 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
“Adonai” is the word used in place of the Divine name. The implication here is an invocation of YHVH, the One who Is, “I AM, That I AM”. God as we understand him - do any of us understand God? Personally, I find great comfort in the phrase “The one who is”, or “the Existing One” as it is sometimes translated. It’s a curious phrase when heard out of context - ie, without the understanding of its source. I heard it a lot in Eastern liturgy before I understood what it means. May “The one who is” or “the existing one” or “the Great I AM” bless us. And, in the liturgical context, as in this Antiphon, that title was applied to Jesus. This Jesus, the Great I AM, is he whose incarnation appeared in type to Moses in the Burning Bush: the Fire of Divinity moving in concert with the flesh of humanity.
Ultimately, the only way to understand God - as with any person - is to enter into conversation with that person. As God called Moses into fellowship at the Burning Bush, so God calls us (all humanity) into Fellowship in the incarnation of Jesus. Some images of Mary holding Jesus in her arms are called icons of The Burning Bush.
The traditional (Eastern and Western) understanding of the actions of God in the Jewish Scriptures are that they are actions of the Son through whom the Father acts: the Son is the Creator. The Son is the one who walked with Adam in the cool of the evening; and the Son is the one whom Jacob saw above the ladder, etc. This method of Reading Jesus back into the Hebrew Scriptures is confusing to some but entirely based on the faith that Jesus is the Promised One. This is God as we understand him in the only way we have - ie in God’s revelation to us.
And this Jesus is the one revealed the Law on Mt Sinai.
“Making a searching and fearless moral inventory” is not about legalism: it is about realising that I am weak. One of the cool tools available for us in the Christian tradition (East and West) is the practice of fasting and abstaining from certain foods at certain times. It’s not because these foods are evil, per se, or even “unclean”. The whole point is to train the body to do what is wanted, rather than to constantly give into cravings or promptings to indulge. The revelation of the law on Mt Sinai, even though it can give rise to microscopic legalisms (see following) is, essentially, a training programme as Paul says.
But as we’re “making a search and fearless moral inventory” we need to hear the voice of Grace. The first rule of fasting and abstinence is not to (eg) avoid meat on Fridays, but rather to eat all things sat before you with thanksgiving to God.
I remember once sitting in Fr Victor’s dining room during a fasting period. Matushka Barbara made us coffee and sat it down with heavy cream. I asked for creamer… and got a loving lesson in hospitality from the two of them.
Once, during Lent, a woman brought lox to a church supper and I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to eat it or not. What I did do was judge her for bringing the fish.
The law revealed on Sinai is a temptation to get hung up on pork and shrimp, sex, and clothing styles. The law is a temptation to judge others for their lack of keeping or their imperfections in keeping.
But the law - the “searching and moral inventory” - is only applicable in the first person. I am the only sinner I know.
Once during Advent someone brought me a plate of deviled eggs over which I worried rather a lot. I thought about giving the eggs away, but I ended up serving them at dinner and I ate one. I mentioned this to my confessor (Fr. David) who told me, “I never want to hear anything about food in confession again.”
To make a sin out of something that is no sin at all is to trip up on legalism. We can not admit “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” if we are straining at legal gnats or swallow planks of mumbo jumbo. We cannot admit “our wrongs” if we’re hung up on judging others. This is actually one place where I depart from many modern sorts of Rehab that are willing to blame parents (for “spoiling” the child or for abusing her), friends or family (for enabling) - and to judge them for it. I can’t confess the wrongs of my friends or family - nor can I judge them for such.
When I hold myself (and only myself) up to the code of Law revealed to Moses on Sinai, I’m without excuse: for I have failed on every point - especially the two important codes to Love God and Love Neighbour. I have no excuse or prayer in this matter but to beg for redemption.

16 December 2018

Eggnog Recipe and Disclaimer


Here's how to make eggnog, right now, at home. Without adding corn syrup and artificial thickeners. Here's the promised disclaimer: if you make this recipe without the alcohol, you may risk some sort of deadly egg contamination. So don't do it. Drink alcohol and be safe.

Here's where a real food blog would add a long, tedious story as an introduction. My intro: this is the whole reason I wanted a hand blender. Thank you, Steve, for getting such a thing for Christmas a few years ago. Now, without further ado:


Here's what you'll need to make about 2 cups of nog:

Half and Half
2 Eggs
Brown Sugar
Whiskey, Whisky, Rye, Bourbon, Rum, Spiced Rum, Brandy. Either one. Rye is my fave this year.
Optional: Nutmeg, or Pumpkin Pie spice... I use a me-mixed blend of cardamom, cloves, mace, and nutmeg.

Divide the eggs into two containers.
Add a big, heaping spoon-full of brown sugar to the yokes.
If you're doing the optional spices, add 3 or 4 pinches to the yokes here as well.
I use a hand or stick blender to whisk up everything.
Whisk up the whites first. You want stiff peaks.
Then whisk up the sugar (spices) and yokes. They'll double or more in size and get thick and goopy.
Make sure you whisk up everything really good. Because everything will deflate later.

Now add half a shot of your alcohol of choice to each. Read my caveat again: you don't want eggy sickness. You'll die the dreaded Nog Death and ruin Christmas memories for your family and friends for ever.
If you love your loved ones, put the alcohol in the eggs.
Then whisk a lot more.
Yes, the alcohol will deflate your previous whisking. Tough. I warned you.
If you whisk well at this point, you kill all the eggy bad guys, and also restore a modicum of the fluffitude.

Now, get yourself a fancy pouring contraption, like a cruet, an ewer, or an urn, or maybe just a 2- 3 cup pyrex thing...

Whisk everything together and add enough half and half to bring the entire contents up to two cups, and whisk some more. (At this point I usually add another shot of alcohol...)

Pour in to glasses, and optionally sprinkle some spices on top.

Drink. This is Tranya.

O Sapientia

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter, suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, who proceeds from the mouth of the Most High, reaching out mightily from end to end, and sweetly arranging all things: come to teach us the way of prudence.
The first step is admitting you don’t know.
In all Twelve-step Programmes, the first three Steps are:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over This Thing and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The first Great O Antiphon condenses the first three steps into a prayer for wisdom. From the beginning we admit that we don’t know what to expect. We need wisdom.
This antiphon echoes this Eastern Rite Prayer, used at the beginning of all services in that tradition:
O heavenly king, consoler, spirit of truth, everywhere present and filling all things: Treasury of blessings and giver of life: Come, dwell within us and cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O good one!
Notice that the antiphon says God’s Wisdom “orders all things”, the Heavenly King is “everywhere present and filling all things”. Why is it then that the Omnipresent King must be invited to dwell in us, the Omnipotent Wisdom must be invited to come to us? Why are we the only part of Creation where God is Not? In the traditional story, it’s called "original sin" but that phrase comes with a lot of baggage: a good answer to think about is an addiction. Humans are addicted to the idea we can do it on our own. And over and over again we try and fail. The only self-made man (or woman) is either willingly or unwillingly blind to the presence of others and the action of God (these are the same thing, here). The only self-made man is delusional.
But, my! How we do love this delusion. America is founded on it - and we call it “the American Dream”.
Like drugs, it makes us feel strong and able to control the world around us. Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency creates in me a masturbatory fantasy that all I am is all a product of me, myself and I - even covering up the presence of the drug! Like drugs, the delusion of self-sufficiency leads each who partakes down the path to Solipsism, the point that only I exist, all else is a product of my imagination. Eventually (quickly) it leads to the idea that I am God.
And then it goes downhill from there: Chaos ensues in and around the life of the self-sufficient man or woman who will admit no one as her equal. She becomes the center of her own universe, forgetting that there are, actually, other people here who are not extensions of oneself. Pain. Violence and abuse follow.
And in the end, insanity - both clinical and experienced.
And we see the product of this insanity around us: greed, abuse of power, selfishness, lack of love, lack of concern (and, more insidiously, self-interest disguised as love and concern). The world is now - and has nearly always been - falling into unmanageable chaos because of our illness.
Before I can utter the prayer of Wisdom’s Antiphon, I have to decide that there is, in fact, something greater than me. I have to admit not only that I am not all powerful - but that something else is. The first step is admitting there’s a problem: it’s not a diagnosis, but rather a confession. I may not know what the problem is, exactly. But I can easily see the effects. And having tried everything else, I’ve decided to give up and ask for help.
O, Heavenly King….
O, Wisdom from on High…
This is the first step.
We can not get to the virtue of Prudence - knowing when and how to act in the right manner - until we admit that we do no know, and need instruction. In another context, the scriptures urge us not to worry about what to say - for in the right moment, the Holy Spirit will tell us. Such is prudent speech, and such would be prudent action as well: not planned out, black and white thinking but in-the-moment choices for charity and grace. Not rigidity but openness. This flexibility and dance is the opposite of the uptight control of of the addict for whom any possibility of chance is a threat. It’s a mutual dance, however: as in rehab, one addict in denial throws the entire community off-balance.
Theologically it is also important: the NT stories are filled with people unable to recognise Jesus as the Messiah because they were expecting someone else. This is especially an issue today. Most people are sure they know who Jesus is…
Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw” takes us on this road:
some say He was an outlaw that He roamed across the land
with a band of unschooled ruffians and a few old fishermen
no one knew just where He came from or exactly what He’d done
but they said it must be something bad that kept Him on the run
some say He was a poet that He’d stand upon the hill
and His voice could calm an angry crowd or make the waves stand still
that He spoke in many parables that few could understand
but the people sat for hours just to listen to this man
some say He was a sorcerer a man of mystery
He could walk upon the water He could make a blind man see
that He conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread
that He talked of being born again and raised people from the dead
some say a politician who spoke of being free
He was followed by the masses on the shores of galilee
He spoke out against corruption and He bowed to no decree
and they feared His strength and power so they nailed Him to a tree
The last verse is the most important to his song, but I’ll leave it off with this comment: when confronted with a bunch of people who claim to know who Jesus is, it might be better to ask him yourself. We are all addicted to our ideas of who Jesus MUST be - but I’m comfortable saying what I’ve always said on this matter: if only it is true that God loves us and *wants* to love us more, then ask… and you’ll know.
The prayer for wisdom is admitting we don’t know.
It’s the right place - the only place, to start.

14 December 2018

A Daily Process. A Life.


I have a sin I've oft confess'd
That drop'd I claim again
and in that sin I've lost the best
of life's abundant store
Can yet this I re-repent
You so often re-forgive
tho like the waves I can't relent
this gouging on the shore
This sin I cast into the flame
but cannot say I've done
For I arise but the same
I'll struggle on some more

I have a sin which calls to me
and seems divinely sent
What it seems it cannot be
If I to love would grow
And many arrows fail the grade
When Cupid stalks his prey
As many broken hearts are play'd
yet fail one whole to show
This sin I cast into the flame
but cannot say I've done
For I arise but the same
How it ends I cannot know

I have a sin I darn't name
it feigns my very self
e'en still I know I am but lame
my heart's not this it's true
Yet this sin I've waved on high
Drumming others to my cause
When in the dark go slinking I
seeking others pitching woo
This sin I cast into the flame
but cannot say I've done
For I arise but the same
God pierce my heart right through

Still, say dear Lord you hear me here
see your child in pain
so I will proffer you in fear
a wayward cup to fill
Even though I cannot play
in light just here and now
You are the light the truth the way
that can this darkness kill
This last I cast into the flame
And then will say you've done
For you arise my life to claim
And save me in thy will.

See: John Donne's  Hymn to God the Father

08 December 2018

As Children of the Kingdom


The Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (C1)

Exsurge, Jerusalem, et sta in excelso : et circumspice ad orientem, et vide collectos filios tuos ab oriente sole usque ad occidentem, in verbo Sancti, gaudentes Dei memoria. Exierunt enim abs te pedibus ducti ab inimicis : adducet autem illos Dominus ad te portatos in honore sicut filios regni.
Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high: and look about towards the east, and behold thy children gathered together from the rising to the setting sun, by the word of the Holy One rejoicing in the remembrance of God. For they went out from thee on foot, led by the enemies: but the Lord will bring them to thee exalted with honour as children of the kingdom. 

Amanuensis to the prophet Jeremiah, Baruch gets rather short shrift in the Protestant recension of the scriptures, while for Catholics, as well as Orthodox and Anglicans, he is a Prophet in his own right. A book excised by the Protestants only 500 years ago bears his name, and it is from this text that we read today. Baruch is writing after the fall of Jerusalem, from within Babylon. It's only 5 years since the burning of Jerusalem.  

In Advent, we are reminded not only of Jesus coming at his nativity, but also of his final coming at the great unveiling of the ages. But let's focus on his, if you will, second and continual advent, here, now with us, in the Holy Mysteries.

We are in Exile. There is no other way to say it. This world is Babylon. We are surrounded on all sides by the signs of hedonism, paganism, idolatry, and empire.  Injustice is rampant - and I don't mean the sort of "give me my rights" whining we talk about today in our first world privilege. I mean God's justice: where the wealth of the world is not shared, where we allow sin, poverty, pride, and weakness to create systems of oppression. This exile eats at our hearts. We delude ourselves, influenced by Babylonian thinking, that we needn't do anything because the Empire should do it, and well, yeah, the gov't isn't doing anything, so what can we do anyway? Too many people to worry about. Exile corrupts us and makes us think the habits of our oppressors should be ours as well. We take power over others as a sign that we have "won". We become the embodiment of our own enslavement.

Babylon is winning...

Yet. Here, on this altar, is God himself in silence. Resting. Waiting. He has come as he promised he would. As he came among us in Bethlehem, so now he has come among us today. Weak and helpless, naked and alone, "for sinners here the silent Word is pleading." This is our God: with us in the midst of Babylon. Here is Jesus, the Kingdom in his very person, sharing himself with us, making the Kingdom present now. This is how God, "the one who began a good work in us will continue to complete it". This constant presence with us, in us, and through us in the world

And so our God summons us to this altar in the words of Baruch: for here, at this table, is spread a feast for all of God's children. Here, on God's board, is home brought to us and we are served by Angels, and hosted here by Divine Hospitality.

Babylon seems to have won, but the Kingdom has summoned us and subverted the Powers. Babylon is winning... only to fall, to be conquered. 

And we know that this feast is not just for us - the initiated. It is for all who come though death to Life, passing the waters of Jordan, and rising up. And all of the Church turns to look in Joy at her Children coming again through her portals.

So with joy let us not only heed but also echo the words of the Prophet. Let us come that our "love may increase ever more and more  in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value,  so that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." As each of us comes to the table, let us not come alone. Bring others, call to them to join the passage to the Kingdom. God has remembered us all, each and every one. 

Arise Jerusalem and stand on high
In the middle of Exile
We are not alone
In the middle of Babylon
We are in the kingdom even so
Though surrounded by darkness
We are fed on the light
And even when forced into slavery
We are the Children of the Kingdom
Jerusalem is here with us now. Exile has ended.

03 December 2018

Give me your unconditional 93.

The 15th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
Wherein we pray for Love.
When I first began the AWC devotions, almost a year before I actually joined, it struck me as funny to spend 14 prayers ruling out sex just to pray for love at the end. That will tell you more about me than it does about the devotions, really, but this is a true confession: even after trying to live the Church's teaching on sex for a couple of decades, I still confuse sex and love. The prayer here is abrupt after all the other prayers. "Give us love". The intention, "for love" is so nebulous: the person saying the prayers has more to learn with each repetition. What do we want? Love! When do we want it? Now!

Repeat the prayer daily for a while to get something else.

Love is the source of all the virtues for which we have been praying in the previous 14 prayers: the love of God is not eros, nor is it philia or friendship. It is not storge or marital love. God's love is agape. It is more than a feeling or even an action: agape is grace, God's very presence, God's very self. God is Agape says St John. To pray, to deeply beg God for agape, it to pray to be enfolded into God's presence and action in the world. We cannot share in his essence: but we can participate in his energies, and by Grace we can become as he is in his nature. This prayer, this begging for love, is the true beginning of salvation. And in asking for Love, in asking for God's present action in our lives: we are surrendering our lost ideas of "I, Me, Mine" to God's idea of the divine dance.

All the other prayers arise from this. Only in Agape can we surrender all the other powers of our souls to God. Only in Agape can our memory be healed, our affectivity be turned to God, our five senses be tuned to the divine actions in the world. Only in living Agape can we let go of the false hand railings the world throws up around us. Only in Agape can we walk by faith and not by sight.

Agape is not a feeling or an emotion. When a teenager hears that "God is love" one is apt to think of the way one doodles "Mr and Mrs High School Football Star" during algebra, or the way one might day dream about asking that one special girl to the prom. That's not love. To be perfectly frank, that's hormones running amok. Our hormones do that. Love is an act of the Will. It come after the hormones.

Even the occultists know this, realizing that the Greek letters for "Agape" add up to 93. (Each letter in Greek is also a number.) That same number, 93, is the sum of the letters in the Greek word for will: "Thelema". So they teach "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and also "Love is the law". They misread the signs though: and made all acts of self-will out to be acts of Agape. I can do what I want and it's love that lets me do it. Aleister Crowley discovered this, but we still hear from occultists today like Oprah and Osteen. What they should have seen in that 93 pairing is that the human will must be subordinate to the Divine Love.

To Agape (love) is to Thelema (will) the good of another as other. It's not a case of "I love you because you complete me" which is just a particular case of narcissism. Nor is it a case I love you so we can do what ever we want.  Since "good" must be on Divine terms, it cannot involve leading anyone into sin. We fail to love when we are engaging in sexual acts contrary to the Divine Will. Like the high school students at the prom, we think or imagine that to be love, but it's only hormones. Many of our most-favourite "love stories" are better understood as Hormone Stories or stories of Egotism masquerading as Love: folks who leave their spouses, children disobeying their parents, people giving into their bodily drives with nary a rational sense about them. King David discovered this with Bathsheba. You don't get to instant love just because the neighbor lady is naked on her roof. (Why was the neighbor lady naked on her roof?) What you get is murder and a child conceived out of wedlock, and Nathan the Prophet satirizing you to your face.

Real love doesn't happen until decades later when you're sweeping up the sawdust your construction working spouse brought home, or making the kids lunch while they are sick in bed. Golde and Tevye learn this in Fiddler on the Roof after 25 years of marriage. Love was not something they knew about at the beginning of marriage. It was not something they learned until there were kids and houses to clean and cows to milk and even sex had stopped. Then they could finally love.

It takes love to turn our wills over to God, to turn our bodies over to God, to turn our memories and emotions over to God. It takes love, in the end, to yield our passions to God and finally see in him our salvation. So we pray for Love. Love is an act of the will, driving towards the good of another, at self-sacrificial speed.

We must love the other, our neighbor, as though they were our very self: while sacrificing our self on the altar of that Love as God did himself, loving us so dearly.

Love is the beginning and end of these intercessions: it is the thing without which all the others are not possible. It is the thing that finally arises when all the other steps have been completed. Acquiring the virtues leads you to love, but you cannot acquire the virtues at all without love first.

God is love.

Love is God's presence, God's grace active in your life - even before you knew it. Any act of love - any true action taken because of real agape - is God's action in your life. We pray for love that we might finally be saved but also that we might, more and more, come to share in God's actions in the healing of the world which we have, perhaps, for too long helped tear up.

28 November 2018

White Knuckling the Viam in Mari


I have heard from my confessor of White Knuckling. To put this as clearly as I can, it's the way I tend to ward off sin: Nope. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not gonna. Not. Not. No. No. No. No. Drats. Time to go to confession. I'm told this is not the right way to do it. How else is there, though? My current line of defense is simply to get just a few more days of saying, "Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it." Can I go 10 days before confession? What about 11? One day at a time, you know... Not gonna do it. Not gonna do it. Wouldn't be prudent. Not at this juncture.

In (EF) Matins for the Feast of St Clement, which was observed last week on 23 November, there is this Versicle and Response:

V. Dedísti, Dómine, Sanctis tuis viam in mari, et in flumínibus sémitam.
R. Iter præbens pópulo terræ, ut enárrent mirabília tua.
V. Lord, Thou didst give unto thy Saints a way in the sea, and a path through the mighty waters.
R. And Thou gavest a way thither unto the people on the land, that they may tell of thy marvellous works.
The image came to me of Israel standing at the shores of the sea, trapped. The Army of Egypt behind and impassible water in front, death before and behind. What I'm about to say is nothing original: even St Paul saw this in the first century. But the water - which moments before had been certain death - suddenly became their salvation. And for a week now, that's been playing in my head: how did their very death become their salvation? The armies of Egypt, long seen as a typological sign of the evil, sins, and temptations of this world, drive the People of God to the brink of death... and yet, God makes that death into life.

Can one let go of white knuckles... and trust God even in the face of temptation?

Spiritual warfare is not all about slaying the enemies. We think of knights in shining armor galloping forward into battle. But I think that's the wrong image just now. Israel was going forward. The armies of temptation were behind them. To turn and fight "through" the army of Egypt would have been the wrong choice. We're trying to get to the Promised Land and, when you think about it, the tempters are not between us and heaven - they're trying to get us to turn away from the path. Think of the icon of the Divine Ladder:

The temptations are not on the ladder but rather trying to pull us off of it. They're saying the path is too hard, the road is scary, come, fight us... they know that if we grab on and hold the ladder with our white knuckles, we won't even be climbing.

How to stop "not gonna do it" and to turn to God in trust and walk through the water - that is our warfare. To say, God's got this and to keep going.
V. Dedísti, Dómine, Sanctis tuis viam in mari, et in flumínibus sémitam.
R. Iter præbens pópulo terræ, ut enárrent mirabília tua.
V. Lord, Thou didst give unto thy Saints a way in the sea, and a path through the mighty waters.R. And Thou gavest a way thither unto the people on the land, that they may tell of thy marvellous works.

Not Down, But Through

 "When Thou passest through the waters,"
Deep the waves may be and cold,
But Jehovah is our refuge,
And his promise is our hold;
For the Lord himself has said it,
He, the faithful God and true;
"When you come to the waters
You will not go down, but through."

Seas of sorrow, Seas of trial,
Bitter anguish, fiercest pain,
Rolling surges of temptation
Sweeping over heart and brain...
They will never overflow us
For we know His work is true;
All His waves and all His billows
He will lead us safely through.

Threatening breakers of destruction,
Doubt's insidious undertow,
Will not sink us, will not drag us
Out to ocean depths of woe;
For His promise will sustain us,
Praise the Lord, whose word is true!
We will not go down, or under,
For He says, "You will pass through."

Annie Johnson Flint