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

23 November 2018

Foodie Memories


Thanksgiving is always partly about the remembrance of things past. Food memories all tie together. One problem with "friendsgiving" is if you're not eating with your family you have no shared memories. Your Mom may have burned the pan of dressing every year, but that was her dressing and the whole family knew it. Your coworker might burn the dressing as well: but it's not Mom's. Even if you eat food every year with the same group of friends, it's not going to balance out the memories created in the first 18-25 years of your life.

I've lived in so many places that my food vocabulary is blessedly large. I can have a Proustian moment with so very many things. (Mostly) Local Foods I miss from from nearly every place I've lived. Some are family foods, however:

Ft Gaines, GA: My late Grandmother's Butterscotch pudding.
Warner Robbins, GA: Shakey's Pizza
Hainesville, GA: Miss Ida's Coca-Cola Ice Cream
Wurtsboro, NY: The Schnitzel and Spumoni at the Olde Valley, Grandma's spaghetti dinner and crazy cake.
Acworth, GA: Mr Black's Sausage Biscuits, and Jeanette's Strawberry Cobbler, also DQ
New York City: Proper pizza - especially a nice Sicilian slice from St Mark's, proper bagels (must be made with Catskill water...), pastry from Caffe Napoli, Mamoun's.
Hoboken, NJ: anything from the Hideaway, and Arthur's.
Astoria, NY: Uncle George's Athens burger and lemon roasted potatoes.
San Francisco, CA: Ok, I live here, but when I'm not here, I miss our amazing Pan-Asian Menu, and proper burritos.
Asheville, NC: Cheerwine, proper BBQ, Slaw Burgers and Slaw dogs, Juleps in the Summer Heat and Matushka Huneycutt's Stroganoff, and also her Mashed potatoes. Yes, I miss Duke's as well.
Buffalo, NY: Friday Fish Fries, Jake's marinated tofu.
Canon City, CO, not a lot of foods to rave about here, to be honest, but I developed a love for Sonic drive-in. Also the altitude turned my normal pancakes in to light, fluffy clouds of awesome.
Phenix City, AL, Catfish. Mom's Fruit Salad.

I know I can get a lot of these things (and often do) via the internet or even from creative local chefs. Still, these things are so much better in situ. And they each have memories attached.

12 November 2018

Nukuler Family

I found out recently that there is, among conservative Catholics, an idea common with conservative Orthodox folks: that a person must decide between "marriage or monasticism". I wrestled with that a lot in the Orthodox church, because I know I'm not called to marriage. Even my dearly loved Spiritual Father, Fr V, tried to fix me up on a date... it was literally 10 years before I realized it was a date... when I got the "well you never called" comment. And I was like, "What? I was supposed to call?"


Then I tried a monastery. I did pick the wrong one... and that may still be my vocation... but when I heard that Catholics, too, had this idea among their more conservative folks, I had to think about it again. What if they are both right?

Thing is, this idea is not in the Church Fathers at all. This idea is not in the canons or the liturgy. There's no sense, even, that one is "called" to marriage until well... 1950 or so. That's when it hit me. Single people in the parish are not a violation of canons, or tradition, or even Tradition: they are a violation of Mid-Century ideas of Autonomy and Suburbia.

We have this post-war fixation on "the Nukuler Family". This idea is far more deadly than the atomic bomb! It's American Autonomy done up in  Sit-Com Costumes. Prior to this time, you family was not just Mom and Dad, Buddy and Sis. It was generations, and kids, and cousins, and hangers on. Your family was large enough to handle marriages and singletons. It was a lot of love for protection and support. But if Mom and Dad have to raise their kids far from the in-laws, and the kids have to grow up and move further away... as a cultural idea than, of course, single people get left out of the package.

To the Church's credit, a monastery is a great place to find community when you don't have it in your family. But it's not because everyone is called to "Marriage or Monastery". Rather, it becomes a stop-gap because we have an unhealthy idea of what "family" is supposed to be.

Yes, I realize that there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in my generation (and younger) that would rather chop off their right arms, and their left ones, than live in the same small town they were born in. But that's only because we taught them not to. We taught them erroneous - even heretical - ideas of self sufficiency and autonomy. We taught them that it was a failure to stay with their parents (even if they had jobs). And we taught parents that their successful children had to move out. WTF for? If Mom and Dad are both working, and the kids too, buy a bigger house, and expand! Get more land, build more rooms, glom on to the tract house ranch in the adjoining lot(s) and take over the whole cul de sac!

We have this sick idea that when I hit 18, I'm not only not supposed to live with my parents any more, but I'm not supposed to pay them back for 18 years of support... until they are old and decrepit and need someone to take care of them. Shouldn't they get the reward of befriending their adult children? Shouldn't we all get a chance to care for each other now? Nearly every social service, every welfare program, every "safety net" is predicated on supporting folks in their autonomy rather than keeping them in family networks.

If I go to a monastery, shouldn't I be able to do so knowing the rest of the family is there to take care of each other? And if I decide not to go to such a place, should I not have the joy of a house filled with loved ones and kids, and life? Until 20th Century America, the idea of running away to "strike out on your own" was just not a thing. Why did we let it take over in the Church?

What can we do to repair this? No, I don't think you should tell all the singles in your parish (regardless of age) to move back in with their folks. But can we create communities that hold and harbor them? I don't just mean at Pizza Night either. I mean in homes, in large networks of familial form and even content. Can we create intentional, multi-generational communities of love including married and single folks looking ever Christward in their service, prayer, and mutual support?

"Marriage or Monastery?" is not the correct question. Rather we should ask "Where is your community?" Which is your family of choice - this large, boundless, familiar tie that weaves through your life, or this boundless brotherhood (or sisterhood) that you would graft on to in the name of Christ? Either way it's an icon of Christ in his Church. The only failed icon is the Cleavers...

10 November 2018

Stopping By Sonic After Church in the Evening

WHAT town this is I do not know
It’s exit one eleven though
So just one short of one oh three
where driving I would homeward go

My little car, this GMC
won’t need the gas: this stop’s for me
between the stores and parking lot
this summer evening breezy, free

The lights turned down I pick a slot
in park the gear the motor hot
My order placed my card I sweep
The car hop serves it hits the spot

This Sonic blast is thick and deep
the flavor funnel it will keep
and I will drink it for I sleep
and I will drink it for I sleep.

(With fondest apologies to Robert Frost from DHR.)

07 November 2018

Count as Loss.


The Readings for Thursday in the 31st week of Ordinary Time (B2)

But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Is there a way to safely look at all of life that went before Jesus and recognize it has no value? Literally, none.

What once was the very meaning of success. What once was the end goal and target of political aspirations, of angry yelling and screaming in the halls of power... is now anathema. And what once was the assumed end goal is now out of reach.

What was once a stumbling block, is now the focal point. What was once the hated enemy is now home. What was once a bastion of oppression has become the greatest liberty, the greatest joy, the richest dreams, the most potent strength.

What was once the easiest thing to get
 Is now the last thing, least, unimportant thing.
What was love turns out to be nothing.
What was everything turns out to be lost.
And what was never on my mind at all
 Is always there, always pushing forward, always driving homeward.
How at 20 could one be so blind?
And how at 50 could so much light still only be the smallest portion possible?
How is Light never at 100% finally?
How is there always more love?
How can Truth ever unfold into more?

Once nearly everything was freudian and sexual.
And sarcasm.
Now it's deadly serious.
And filled with Joy.

And this, they say is only the beginning.

And pains and white water all serve to sever connections. Loss and loves all bend to one direction. Even the joys of life like sunrises and winter chills only point one way. And it is foolish to kick against the goads.

One day I will wake up and drop this all and won't care to do so. One day the light will turn up so bright that it will burn and I won't mind. One day the love will pierce through like steal in my hands, my feet, my head, my side.... my heart.

And I will will finally know as I am known.

And only the grace by which I stand...

will be left at all.

Please, be it so.