20 September 2018

Sonnet: Purgatio


I burn! To know the pangs of love. These flames,
That singe & bake, that sear & broil my soul
Are but the birth contractions: payment, toll.
For each of Love's rejections living maims.

See these are not the chains from Marley's hole
How dark & clanging hopeless Without End
But rather here my soul's most comely Friend
In living light my wounded heart makes whole

That to that course my living will should bend
Which e'er she knew but never yet could take
& by these Flames is forged anew to slake
The burning passions which my life could end

Your prayers of Love quench not this Burning lake
They heat the forge my soul's new lamp to make

19 September 2018

So Very Much Love


The Readings for the Memorial of Sts Andrew Kim Tae-gon,
& Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Thursday in the 24th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Remittuntur ei peccata multa, quoniam dilexit multum. Cui autem minus dimittitur, minus diligit.
Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less. 

It took me years, decades to realize what he said to me. I mean "your sins are forgiven" is clear. But what did I know? I've been finding them at ever turn lately. Deeper and deeper. When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I have. I was not running away from my sins... they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. What sins I had done? I was just living a fun life. There was the long sexual history, of course, but that turned quickly into a pharisaical judgement of folks who didn't have that history. There was the condemnation of all my sexual partners, the instant feeling of superiority, and the realization that I could always just go to confession. And I knew what it was all about. But I needed to condemn and forgive myself as well.

Sure, I had dissed my parents to pull this off, but it was so important when I did it, right? They were oppressing me into their cultural models of virtue and binding me to the slavery of the middle class. Of course I got out of that house and blew off the family as quick as I could! It has taken most of the last three decades to make up for that. Forgiveness is nothing without healing. "Saved" is the same Greek word as "made whole" and damn it all but I realized I needed my family to be whole. Still, for the longest time, even after he touched me, I didn't care about them. They were always trying to hold me back. And now I had found the real liberation. This Jesus was the freedom I had always craved. Goodbye, Pops.

Then, later, when I realized what my history had done to me, I struggled to reconcile who I was becoming with who I had been. This guy had reached in and broken all my crutches. But I had used them for so long, that I was literally limping. I would wake up and cry out, How can he do that to someone? Take away all that's ever been important and leave them alone? And I was not alone because he was still, right there: his hand on my head, my tears falling. My hands holding. My lips kissing.

I still needed so much to wash his feet and to know this wasn't another hallucination, another lover that took what he wanted and left.

And I found his feet everywhere I looked. And found myself washing them and kissing them over and over. And I realized these were men I had used to get away, to free myself. Sure, I took their money, but sometimes I didn't cuz it was fun. I had made them all into idols and toys... to fill the broken, empty place where Jesus should be. Idols of lust. Idols of liberation. Idols of personal satisfaction. Idols of gosh this is fun tonight. And each man failed to be that replacement for the one thing needed. Each man fell short, and I had to replace him too. There are no Alphas anywhere. Now that Jesus was here where he belonged I could even love these men, even pray for them, beg God to show them some part of wholeness; some path to wholeness. It took forever for that to dawn on me: restored relationships means even restoring these that had been my destruction. God's restoration, his love acting through my love, means healing even these broken lives and hearts.

When it all crashes down, when you hit rock bottom, sure, it's easy to see what good a love like Jesus' can do for you. But when you're not at rock bottom, when you're only aware that something, somewhere, has gone horribly wrong... Love like Jesus offers is only the beginning of a long, slow, climb up. Yes, there glimpses of glory and flashes of light, but mostly, it's just a trudge up out of the pit I dug for myself. Jesus is here walking with me, but I have to walk. It's no less deep because I didn't hit the extremity. 

In the latter times, I felt a call unexpected. Could I just, a little, find something good in the past and bring it with me? And that painful last grip of darkness still clings to me. Can I not just maybe find someone that I can take comfort in (read "use" and "self gratify"). I have loved much, and I have also lost much.

I can be forgiven all of it. But I have to let it all go.

And there's this long, slow trudge, still: where nearly everyone needs my forgiveness and where, I need theirs. And I have to be loving: because what the kids call "slut shaming" is a real thing. We don't shame folks out of their sins. We love them. For most of them, it was a loss of love or a quest for love, or a demand for love on "my own terms", that took them there in the first place. Only Jesus can be that love. And your heart has to open, has to draw them forward, has to let Jesus love them through you.

When he said I had loved much, I thought he was laughing at me. For I had. But decades later, I saw what he saw: I was not running away from my sins... they were still in my pockets that night at his feet. I was running to him. I had heard that this man - above all other men - was capable of being Love so I had to run and give him a chance. I never expected forgiveness. What did I need forgiving for? I was in a place I had chosen. But this love that he saw... that he knew inside his own child. This love that his love awoke in everyone who reached out to him.

This love is still becoming the meaning of my life. I'm still letting it unfold and finding new ways of kissing his feet.

15 September 2018

Thoughts and Prayers


The Readings for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B2)

Vade retro me Satana, quoniam non sapis quae Dei sunt, sed quae sunt hominum.
Get behind me Satan, you're not thinking as God does, but as men do.

At vigil Mass on Saturday night I had the second reading: that passage from St James. Well practiced and ready to proclaim. I think I did good. 

But I sat down having heard it come out of my own mouth.  And I finally heard what James was saying.  We hear it as an accusation today because we don't feed the homeless and we are, exactly, inclined to say "sorry, no change but here's my thoughts and prayers." James was talking to a church that cared for the poor, that fed the hungry. James' church was known for her charity. James was speaking in hyperbole to a church that would never leave a homeless person hungry on the street. He was saying... look, Faith without works? You might as well say "Sorry, no change, but here's my thoughts and prayers..."

I can almost imagine the Christians laughing. 

Who would do such a thing?
James was saying, "look you would never do this... so why on earth would you think that believing was enough?"

Their children. That's who would do this... we would do this. We make a mental masturbation out of the faith when we confess doctrines that have no power. When we can claim to follow Jesus but still give in to our sexual whims or anti-Christian ideas adopted from the cultures around us. When we say the things of Jesus, but do the things of the world we scribble on the toe tag of the faith.

Jesus says "take up your cross".
The last thing any of us want to do.
Do something, damn it.
Peter says "Don't do that."
Jesus you have to do something.
Peter says,"You do enough already... and if they kill you, what will they do to us?"
Jesus says, "You're Satan".
The vocations director says "Discernment is an Action Verb".
My spiritual director says, "You're a writer? What are you going to do about it?"
My diet doesn't run itself.
But my inner demon says, just sit here. Stop. You'll be fine.
It's not enough to want to be chaste.
You have to do it.
You can't just believe in the virtues.
You have to acquire them.
Read your office.
Pray hard.
Now get up, get out, and do.
No pain
No gain.
And lots of Satan.

Jesus says "Take up your cross" most of us tend to simply want to wear it like a fashion item.
Jesus say "Sacrifice everything" and most of us think of  football and sneakers.

Our ancestors look at us fighting over sex and money scandals.
They see us in a continual, long, defeatist action of compromise.

Half the Church feeds the homeless but has no sexual morals. All this "pharisee" talk is distracting us from climate issues.
The other doesn't give two flies about the homeless but can't wait to purge the liberals out. 
Where's the church that loves the poor and calls the sinner to repent? Where's the church that preaches the holy mysteries of the Gospel and calls all the world into 

Where's the church of faith and works?

Thoughts. And prayers. And Works.

Where's the church that calls us to charitable actions of repentance and reparation? Where's the prayer that leads to action? Where's the weights to be lifted by hands energized (or wearied) by too much prayer?

Jesus, raise us from the dead.

14 September 2018

Idols of the Post-Moderns


The Readings for Our Lady of Sorrows
Saturday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Sed quae immolant gentes, daemoniis immolant, et non Deo. Nolo autem vos socios fieri daemoniorum : non potestis calicem Domini bibere, et calicem daemoniorum; non potestis mensae Domini participes esse, et mensae daemoniorum.
But the things which the heathens sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God. And I would not that you should be made partakers with devils. You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils. 

The image above is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. For a while in the early 90s, I could practically recite the thing. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post.

Paul can be of two minds about the pagan deities in the cultures he visits. On the one hand, there is no such thing as "Hermes" or "Magna Mater", so the idol is nothing. It's unimportant. We should pay it no mind at all. On the other hand, the "energies" or "things" that draw humanity to worship idols, that foment fear and superstition in men's minds: these are demons. So, on the one hand, we know that food offered to idols is - literally - food held up in front of a bit of wood or waved under some metal. Might as well be cooked over wood or in a metal pot for all the "juju" that's in the idol. But on the other hand there are demons involved in the delusion. 

Paul tells us that if you find something in the market, go for it. But if someone tells you that it was sacrificed to idols, then you shouldn't eat it. The issue is that there's no "demonic activity" in the meat. But there are demons tempting others - and you - and even accidental visual collusion is still collusion with the demons.

We don't have a lot of metal or wooden idols in our world any more. So where do we find the demons lurking? 

In Ephesians we find Paul telling us we "wrestle not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." We've made our own idols I think. License and selfish desire, concupiscent ideologies, and false spiritualities all lead us astray. I think it would be easy to make an idol out of some adult entertainment stars, but we're never that poetic. And demons hate actual art. We'd rather make an idol out of a flag, a football team, or an addiction. For St Paul all the idols of Crete or the Areopagus were also centers of cults: communities of folks. But for us, with our isolation, our internet, our buffering, and introversion, we find that our cultus has room for only one or two.

As with the idols St Paul knew, the thing, itself, is nothing. Drugs, Apple Pie, Chevy Trucks, Hell's Angels, Cats...  The thing, itself, is nothing. But the energies that draw us and hold us to the thing, the desire to craft identities around it (instead of our God-given identity in Christ) that's the "powers and principalities" that we're fighting against. These rulers of darkness draw us into their orbits and force us into isolation, away from each other, away from people who worship differently. Today we've even developed drugs so that we can listen more carefully to our preferred voices, shutting out all else. When these demons get their hooks into us it can take decades before healing can begin.

This, then, is the cost of this much more subtle, more more personalized content that's passing for idolatry today. Against this Jesus stands as a "sign of contradiction". Jesus is not about "me" but about "us". Jesus calls us out of our isolation into communion, out of our pallid humanist ideas of "equality" and into constantly kenotic communities. The weaker leads, the stronger serves, the wiser learns at the feet of the fool. God is love: a fiery all-consuming, all-engaging, all-dancing act of self-giving. And we need to be that as well or we're nothing at all like God. The demons hate this.

The image above, as I noted, is from the cover of one of my favourite political books, the T.A.Z. or Temporary Autonomous Zone. It seemed the perfect image to head up this post as it is clearly of an idol that was constructed by an artist. It's a sort of thing the occult community used to call "Chaos Magic". It means nothing to anyone save the artist that made it. But for the rest of us it is beautiful, maybe. Tonight, as I was typing the final lines of this post... I took off my contacts and sat back down to the computer. Only then did I see the demons in the image. I've had this image in my possession for nearly 30 years only now, liberated from the book and propped up on my blogpost did I see them. 

We do not share our demonic communions with anyone at all anymore. Except the demons.  And they like it like that. Divide and conquer. 

Sing my tongue


A Blessed Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross!

The office hymn today (in the tradition office, pre-V2, and as we used it at my monastery) tells a great mystery, repeated again in Holy Week: singing the whole plan of Salvation. It begins with Matins, in the dark with notes of prehistory and Christmas.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the ending of the fray ;
Now above the Cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay :
Tell how Christ, the world's Redeemer,
As a Victim won the day.

God in pity saw man fallen,
Shamed and sunk in misery,
When he fell on death, by tasting
Fruit of the forbidden tree :
Then another Tree was chosen
Which the world from death should free.

Thus the scheme of our salvation
Was of old in order laid ;
That the manifold deceiver's
Art, by art might be outweighed ;
And the lure the foe put forward
Into means of healing made.

Therefore, when the appointed fulness
Of the holy time was come,
He was sent, who maketh all things,
Forth from God's eternal home :
Thus he came to earth, incarnate,
Offspring of a maiden's womb.

Weeps the Infant in the manger
That in Bethlehem's stable stands ;
And his limbs the Virgin Mother
Doth compose in swaddling bands,
Meetly thus in linen folding
Of her God the feet and hands.

To the Trinity be glory
Everlasting, as is meet :
Equal to the Father, equal
To the Son, and Paraclete :
Trinal Unity, whose praises
All created things repeat.  Amen.

But then, the office of Matins continues with glorious psalmody and antiphonal chanting. There's a wonderful reading in this office, appended to this post. Then not until Lauds is the hymn completed. In the final verses, sung to the same tune now that the sun is risen, the last part of the story is told, how this babe...

Thirty years among us dwelling,
His appointed time fulfilled,
Born for this, he meets his Passion,
For that this he freely willed :
On the Cross the Lamb is lifted,
Where his life-Blood shall be spilled.

He endured the nails, the spitting,
Vinegar, and spear, and reed :
From that holy Body broken
Blood and Water forth proceed :
Earth, and stars, and sky, and ocean,
By that flood from stain are freed.

Faithful Cross! above all other,
One and only noble Tree;
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be :
Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.

Bend thy boughs, O Tree of glory,
Thy relaxing sinews bend :
For awhile the ancient rigour
That thy birth bestowed, suspend :
And the King of heavenly beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.

Thou alone wast counted worthy
This world's ransom to sustain,
That a shipwrecked race for ever
Might a port of refuge gain :
With the sacred Blood anointed
Of the Lamb for sinners slain.

To the Trinity be glory
Everlasting, as is meet :
Equal to the Father, equal
To the Son, and Paraclete :
Trinal Unity, whose praises
All created things repeat.  Amen.

So all creation joins in the verse and reponse, repeated throughout today's office:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. For by your Cross you have redeemed all the world.

Chosroës, King of Persia, having, in the last days of the reign of the Emperor Phocas, overrun Egypt and Africa, took Jerusalem, where he slaughtered thousands of Christians and carried off to Persia the Cross of the Lord, which Helen had put upon Mount Calvary.  Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, moved by the thought of the hardships and horrid outrages of war, sought for peace, but Chosroës, drunken with conquest, would not allow of it even upon unfair terms.  Heraclius therefore, being set in this uttermost strait, earnestly sought help from God by constant fasting and prayer, and through his good inspiration gathered an army, joined battle with the enemy, and prevailed against three of Chosroës his chief captains, and three armies.

Chosroës was broken by these defeats, and when in his flight, he was about crossing the Tigris, he proclaimed his son Medarses partner in his kingdom.  Chosroës' eldest son Siroës took this slight to heart, and formed a plot to murder his father and brother, which plot he brought to effect soon after they had come home.  Then he got the kingdom from Heraclius upon certain terms, whereof the first was that he should give back the Cross of the Lord Christ.  The Cross therefore was received back after that it had been fourteen years in the power of the Persians, and Heraclius came to Jerusalem and bore it with solemn pomp unto the Mount whereunto the Saviour had borne it.

This event was marked by a famous miracle.  Heraclius, who was adorned with gold and jewels, stayed perforce at the gateway which leadeth unto Mount Calvary, and the harder he strove to go forward, the harder he seemed to be held back, whereat both himself and all they that stood by were sore amazed.  Then spake Zacharias, Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying : See,  O Emperor, that it be not that in carrying the Cross attired in the guise of a Conqueror thou shewest too little of the poverty and lowliness of Jesus Christ.  Then Heraclius cast away his princely raiment and took off his shoes from his feet, and in the garb of a countryman easily finished his journey, and set up the Cross once more in the same place upon Calvary whence the Persians had carried it away.  That the Cross had been put by Heraclius in the same place wherein it had first been planted by the Saviour caused the yearly Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to become the more famous thenceforward.

12 September 2018

The Courthouse at Apophatics.


The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Si quis autem se existimat scire aliquid, nondum cognovit quemadmodum oporteat eum scire.
If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology: of things we cannot know. We travel down this path quietly, patiently, humbly. The first step is abandoning childish ideas of God - Santa Claus, Magic Maker, Karmic Thunder Clap. We have to mourn the passing of these false gods. And then we let others die as well, the divine Therapist, the Matchmaker, the Life Pattern Writer. We give up each of these false gods for the purpose of knowing God as he has revealed himself.

But there are Johnny Rebs of this process too: they want to jettison everything, even the things God has revealed about himself. They want to strike out on their own and they insist that nothing can be known.

Imagine if you introduced yourself to me and I insisted that, even so, I cannot know your name because I cannot trust my knowledge. Or maybe you've told me your name, and I insist that I've discovered your name is actually something else because I sat alone in silence looking off into space and heard a voice saying, "The reader's name is Zaphod." So when you said, "Hi, I'm Samantha!" My response was "I can't grasp knowledge about you at all, but I've understood your name is actually Zaphod." Perhaps you introduce me to members of your family who back up your ludicrous claim of being named "Samantha".  And I point out to them that their life-long association with you does not undo the need for humility and submission to the Unknowable, whose name is actually Zaphod. 

There is a strong tradition of negation in Christian theology. In fact, to claim that I know anything at all about God is silly. God as the very Is of being, the act of essence, the totality of real, the negation of unreality, the loss of nothing... is all beyond my comprehension (even though I have good, poetical mystic words to use).  I have words, but I can't know it.

But to say God can't reveal things about himself, to say that God can't interact with us in any way, shape, or form is to deny the Incarnation. Even the most apophatic of Byzantine mystics will tell us that God is in relationship with us, that in his energies, he is knowable. I might actually go further, but the Neo-apophatics, these folks would deny the very existence of God as "unknowable."

This is the state of most liberal Christian theology today: this trying to call Samantha Zaphod. My experience in the Episcopal Church and among liberal Orthodox and Catholic folks is that this tradition of negation is used, most often, to make room for heresy. "My personal point of view is just another Christian point of view because God is unknowable." You can't tell me I'm wrong: God can't be known. James Martin is no different from Katharine Jefferts Schori or, at least recently, in terms of sexuality, Kalistos Ware. Free for all... 

St Paul has a whole other point for this: we can know nothing therefor we should be as conservative and careful as possible. Paul is quite sure there is no such thing as "Zeus" or "Hecate" and that eating meat from their temples (which is free...) is a good way to get a good meal. But someone might see him being "free in Christ" and be scandalized. So he will give up meat. Forever.

But it doesn't mean he will let Christ be worshiped alongside Zeus because, "hey, we can't know, right?" Paul's quite clear about God's revelation to the Church. Faith is not the same as Knowledge. Faith, rather, is the submission of my experience to the Church's corrective teaching. If I've experienced God in a field of dandelions, that is good. But if I insist, then, that God is a dandelion, or this field of dandelions, or that God lives in this field in a sacramental, focused way. The Church is going to step in and say "No" to that. Faith is accepting that the Church's position is an important, corrective part in this equation. The Church is the control group in my religious exploration.

God says, in the Psalms, "Be still and know that I am God." The Hebrew word there is to "know in the Biblical Sense" as they used to say. It's the same word for the sexual intimacy between man and wife. But also between Eve and the Apple. With God - as with Good and Evil - the experience is the knowledge. We can know something in book learning. We can stalk someone on the internet and think we know them. But we won't know them until we are face to face.

When I surrender, when I stop rebelling and return to the divine union of God and Man that is the Church, when I give up my slavery to my own reasoning, then I can actually know - by revelation - what cannot be known by searching. When I come before God not in Questing Mode, but rather in Adoration Mode - adore from the Latin, "Ad - Ora" or mouth-to-mouth/face-to-face - then I can know God and be known by him, as two lovers to each other.

11 September 2018

Wei Wu Wei


The Readings for Wednesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et qui utuntur hoc mundo, tamquam non utantur : praeterit enim figura hujus mundi. 
And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 

The Greek in these verses is interesting and a lot of English translators (and St Jerome, as well) build it in parallels:

Those married as not married

Those weeping as not weeping

The same verb is used in the positive and negative form. It's nearly like Lao Tzu's "Do Not-Doing". Cry not-Crying, Rejoice not-Rejoicing. Own not-Owning... So they get to Verse 31 and keep the parallel going: use not-using. Except that's not in the Greek. Unlike the earlier verbs the writer doesn't just say something and not-something but rather χρώμενοι xromenoi and καταχρώμενοι kataxromenoi where kata adds the meanings to over-use, to use fully, to use up. The Greek says "Use the Kosmos without using-up the Kosmos" or even use without abusing the Kosmos.

There is a difference between using the good things of this world and abusing them, between blessing God for a good vintage of wine and getting blotto. There are intended uses (the telos) of God's blessings and then there is abuse of them. CS Lewis covers this in Perelandra. There are fruit so good, so refreshing that one is filling, but a second - when it's not meal time, nor otherwise needed - would be sinful, an act of gluttony. Food is like that on earth. Sex is like that: for God gave it to us for a purpose and we've discovered myriad ways to over use or abuse it. Earlier in Chapter 6, Paul gave us a list of people who kataxromenoi everything to the point of becoming their overuse for Paul uses the verbs as nouns. He adds, "They will not inherit the kingdom of God".

That's what it means to kataxromenoi: to use up something so much as to become identified with the using of the thing. 

It is to be noted that "Kosmos" does not mean "the planet, the orbiting stars" etc. It can mean that, sure, but it means "the system", or, literally, the arrangement. The ordered harmony of the stars but also the system of Empire, the way the world is governed. We're not to do that: think of people who say "American then Catholic", or who break it down even further and say "Kennedy Catholic" or some other political styling; anyone who hyphenates. When we let the worldly system define our faith, we've drifted into καταχρώμενοι and away from the faith that is described as "Catholic" that is, whole. 

The Catholic faith is her own Kosmos, or rather she is the breaking-in of a new Kosmos on this one. The form of this Kosmos is passing away... as the new one, the Kingdom of God, breaks in. We can use even the political system of this world as long as we don't become hacks in it. We can enjoy the food as long as we don't become gluttons, we can have sex adhering to the divine plan. We are to be the advanced, covert (yet somewhat overt) force of an invading army.  We are the spies with Joshua in the Promised Land. We are, as Lewis notes, in occupied territory. We can't be going native. 

10 September 2018

What if?


The Readings for Tuesday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et haec quidam fuistis : sed abluti estis, sed sanctificati estis, sed justificati estis in nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi, et in Spiritu Dei nostri.
And such some of you were; but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of our God. 

Yesterday Paul said that some in Corinth were celebratory about their sins when they should be mourning. That struck me hard because there are those Catholics who feel "enlightened" and they have "left behind" all the strange teachings of the church and come into the "real" world, the "modern" world. And reading Paul's list... it seem remarkably like the way enlightened folks might behave today.

When they found out I had joined Courage two years before becoming (or wanting to become) Catholic, two friends asked me about attending meetings where "my identity" should be called into question. A year later, I'm not sure what to do with the knowledge that two such highly placed folks - one a Catholic missionary, and one a Catholic educator - would ask me why I wanted to adhere to the Church's teaching on chastity. I mention this because it is how we got to where we are.

Such some of you were.

Aslan says we are not given to know what if but only what isI've been told that for those who did not have sex, this is easier. As I do not fit into this category I won't know. I will tell you this is a hard struggle. Still, it seems no harder than those who deal with other sins: and Paul seems to know a list of very hard sins indeed. There are folks who seem to think that they can have their pet sins if they allow me to have mine.
A large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.
This is the life I have: God seems to think that, if I now cooperate with him, this is exactly the life I needed to have had in order to bring my soul fully to him. There is grace before and behind.

What is it for you? What is it that you think really is who you are, that is not... really, even the tiniest fraction of your real self? What is the one thing you see when you look in a mirror that is hiding - from you - how God sees you?


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08 September 2018

Reformat then Reboot


The Readings for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Et adducunt ei surdum, et mutum.
They brought to him one who was deaf and mute.

OK. We need to look at some Greek. The word rendered "deaf" here means deaf. Not "hard of hearing" or "Had to yell when you spoke" but unable to hear.

The Greek rendered "mute" (mutum in Latin) is usually translated as "a difficulty in speaking".  It is only used this one time in the Bible: μογγιλάλος mogilalos. It comes from two Greek words meaning hardly talking, i.e. dumb (tongue-tied) although some decide to render it as "speaking with difficulty" instead of "hardly talking".

This is important.

If one is deaf from birth, one has no words. One doesn't know what they sound like. If one is only partially deaf, or not so from birth, one has words.

I think there's a miracle here so amazing and it was hidden from all the generations of Christians until just in the 20th century. Only now do we kno w the claim Mark is making here.

Congenital deafness prevents the parts of the brain that do language from developing. But we're only learning this, fully, now.

Do you see the miracle performed here? 

When Jesus says to the deaf mute, "Ephphatha!" He is not just "healing" him: Be open... to Jesus. Not just "open your ears and your mouth" but "OPEN!" He's fixing him, reformatting his brain, giving him words, rewriting his entire history into language. The WORD is being imparted to his brain in the same way that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at the beginning. 

Mark links this with the Isaiah prophecy about the mute speaking which is one more reason to hear this not as "Speaking with difficulty" but "mute".

This happens one other time in the Gospels: with the man born blind. Again: he has no way of connecting sight to words. The part of the brain that understands "that's a tree" is not there. Healing his eye sight requires doing the whole brain reformat and reboot. 

This is how much our God love us. This is what is possible to the human that opens to God.

I've read a lot, recently, about same-sex attraction and sexual sin. A lot of folks seem to think men and women who are same-sex attracted cannot live chaste lives according to the church's teaching. I've heard this even from folks I would count as friends.  They are saying to me that Jesus would never say "Ephphatha!" to me. They are saying I'm beyond the grace of God.

They seem to say that recent sexual scandals happened not because of a culture of permissive silence, not because of a continual moral compromise, not because of a growing worldliness, not because of a satanic attack on the church, but simply because these abusers were same-sex attracted. Some will allow it might have been some of the other things, but they were able to happen because of the last item and, really, we know how those people are.

I don't know what to think except to pray that they are wrong. This Gospel story, the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and the teachings of Courage seem to indicate that it is more than possible to live (by God's grace) within the teachings of the Church. It is desirable and possible for someone to do so. As Isaiah says, 
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Why should God be so small as to not lend himself to my struggles?

Why should I be so small as to assume he doesn't want to help me?


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07 September 2018

Even this is for our good.


The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Saturday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omnia cooperantur in bonum.
All things work for the good.

This is one place where I feel woefully weak in my faith. For I need to have all my ducks in a row all the time. Yes, it's true: I could up and move across the country tomorrow. But if I do it's because I have all my ducks in a row and, "I got this."  I know I usually make it look like "God, you gotta miracle? Cuz I need one..." but the reality is if I trusted God more, I might have actually stayed put and acted rather than running away.

In hindsight no one would be happy: but I might have stayed in Western North Carolina, when the Parish and the Monastery melted away... and become Roman Catholic just there. B16 had come on board, everything was looking rosy, Asheville was even doing parades with the Blessed Sacrament!  

But I'll take my ducks and run away... you know though: God even uses that. I had a birthday phone call last week from a friend whose life was always in chaos because she just had one thing she could NOT get at work. After years she got it... and that gave her more responsibility, and that put her life in even more chaos. Thing is she was my housemate. We might have hung on a bit longer if she saw this work opportunity coming. But lo, when it got there, it was even worse than before. My departure - my fear of commitment - turned out to be something God used for my good: in this case, my sanity.

I've nearly never come clean about all the times I've run away. But mostly: it was because I couldn't trust God to bring good out of where I was or else, I was too chicken to take the actions I knew I needed to take so running away was the only thing left. For example, when I became Orthodox I was living with this guy. I was trying to find a way to be Orthodox and hold on to this guy. I couldn't... so I left. Moved to Asheville, because I couldn't make the break up either. So, when I wrote "I was in hell" I was living with this Dude. And no small art of my hell was made up of not being willing to act and to trust God when I acted.

So I ran away. 

Which God used: bringing dozens of people into my life, bringing friends I'd never have had otherwise, reconnecting me with my parents (because of proximity), reconnecting me with some sense of adult responsibility: I came away from there with my first driver's license and my first car. And I got there with my first sense of things I can't do any more and be Orthodox or Catholic. It took a while to sink in, but the lesson was learned.

I'm not sure why this lesson shows up on the Nativity of the BVM, but maybe because her parents were barren for so long that they are a reminder: even when life isn't going "right" it is still going God's way.

My formation director in the Dominican Tertiaries encouraged me by saying that God used all the things I'd been through to bring me to holiness. I'll chew on that. God uses all things for our Good - which means for our acquisition of virtue, our salvation, our union with him. As St Paul says, later in this chapter.
Certus sum enim quia neque mors, neque vita, neque angeli, neque principatus, neque virtutes, neque instantia, neque futura, neque fortitudo, neque altitudo, neque profundum, neque creatura alia poterit nos separare a caritate Dei, quae est in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Not one thing that can happen to us can part us from God. 

But this is where my faith is weakest, and I have more than trouble here: trusting that things are going not "as God planned" but rather "As God is saving me". 

06 September 2018

The New Wine Fallacy


The Readings for Friday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Vetus melius est.
Old is better.

Jesus' saying about old and new wine skins gets abused a lot. It often gets turned into an excuse for percussion sets in Mass. I've heard it used in presenting new teachings on sex and sexuality. It gets spun into presentations about changing who gets ordained. It becomes a perfect argument for any new thing, any compromise with the world, any idea that's never been tried before.  "We don't do it that way because it's wrong" is treated as code for "We don't do it that way because we've never done it that way before". And then out come the misuse of new wine skins. It's really a category of Chronological Arrogance: we know better now.  It is argumentum ad novitatem

Jesus does say that new wine goes in new wine skins. Jesus does say that you don't use new cloth to patch old clothes.

These are both true.

But Jesus does not say, "Therefore the New Wine is Better". In fact, quite to the contrary, it is old cloth that is better for patching old clothes, and, right there in Verse 39, Vetus melius est.  Old is better. Or, really, "Melius" means "honey-like". The Greek word used is χρηστός krestos meaning kindly and useful.  It is also a known pun on "Christos":
"Xrestus ("useful, kindly") was a common slave-name in the Graeco-Roman world. It "appears as a spelling variant for the unfamiliar Christus (Xristos). (In Greek the two words were pronounced alike.)" (F. F. Bruce, The Books of Acts, 368).
Everyone knows that Old Wine is better than New Wine... aka souring grape juice.

So, let Jesus words give you something to think about the next time you hear someone want to sing "Eagles Wings" at a Requiem...

05 September 2018

Look: The Bible Project


Can't say enough good about these folks! Between the YouTube Channel, the growing community engagement they provide, the podcasts, and the solid Bible teaching, these folks are an apostolic force to reckon with. We've used them as a resource in the RCIA class and the Lay Dominicans use them as well.

They don't use a lot of denominational markers, so I'm honestly not sure which Christian tradition(s) they call home. They do seem to come from a more reformed tradition, based on a couple of points which I'll mention below, and I'm going to wager centrist-to-conservative, but from my Orthodox and Catholic journey I've not heard anything I can disagree with.

You may have seen one or more of their videos which are in that "talking while someone does a whiteboard" style.

Every one of their videos is at once a very good Reader's Digest version of the contents of the books, as well as a very good teaching/commentary experience. They have other videos on different Biblical themes, what we would have called a "word study" back in the day. I've not watched these videos. I'm looking forward to that!

Their Bible Project podcast has been my latest experience and it was the depth of the podcast talking about God (which will be the theme of videos this fall) that moved me to write this post. Their current series explores the Bible text with an eye to the ancient cultures in which that text was written and in a way that may be surprising to the podcasters as well as many of their listeners, they come up with a very not-protestant World View. I'm not talking about the flat earth, here (they deal with that) but rather about a world filled with God's power and God's actions.

You don't need to take my word for it. Give a listen. Watch any of their videos. Start here, which they do without ever using the words "Lectio Divina":

I think they avoid words like "Lectio" because these words are not part of their tradition. There were two long, painful moments in the podcasts when I wanted yell out (in the first case) "Sacraments. The word you're looking for is sacraments." The second time was "Saints. Invocation of Saints".  It is amazing that they come to these realizations going from Hebrew words and ancient cultural markers, but that's what the Catholic and the Orthodox always say: "just taste and see, and you'll be one of us..."

04 September 2018

That Natural Man...


The Readings for Tuesday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Animalis autem homo non percipit ea quae sunt Spiritus Dei : stultitia enim est illi, et non potest intelligere : quia spiritualiter examinatur.
The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

The Latin is "Animalis" or animal. The RSV rendered it as "Unspiritual". The Greek, however, is ψυχικός psychikos or "natural".  It's usually contrasted to πνευματικός pneumatikos which does mean "spiritual"... however we miss something here if we're not careful.

In Christian athropology, there are two types of life: Soma and Zoe. The Soma life is something shared by all animals. The Zoe life is shared by all spiritual beings. Since the human being is a hybrid between spirit and flesh, between pneuma (spirit) and sarx (flesh), we have a choice: we can continue to live the Somatic life until we just consume ourself and die; or we can live Zoetic life forever.

Soma and Zoe are contrasted all through the New Testament. Sarx and Pneuma (Parts of the person) each have their own sort of wisdom, their own sort of teaching. Soma only comes from God in the sense that God gives all breath. But the Zoe is the very life of God. Humans can't destroy the sarx (for we are created as sarx and pneuma together) but we are called to the action of self control: to submit the sarx to the pneuma, to control the flesh with the spirit. We are called to be Pneumatikos instead of Psychikos.

Have you ever gone to a Zoo and seen an Alpha male orangutan engage in sex acts in the monkey house? I make this point this way because orangutans seem to do this all that time... every time I've been in a monkey house (Bronx Zoo, Atlanta Zoo, San Francisco Zoo, San Diego Zoo) the orangutans have been sexually busy. And if they can't get what they want, they'll engage in autoeroticism. It's so odd to see: because there's no pr0n in the monkey world. They just do this thing. It's 100% natural.

And so that makes it ok, right?

That's the argument that we hear in the modern world. To this the Church says it's possible to take a higher path than simply "natural".

It's fine to eat meat all the time or to go vegan, it's find to eat dairy or sweets... but the Church says food is only there for one purpose: to help you serve God.  There are times when it would be spiritually better to not eat. The Church doesn't stop with food or sex: the teachings are that sometimes perfectly natural things can be harmful to the spiritual growth of the human. 

As we are to act in a godly way, and God's first action is self-giving, anything that counters that motion of self-sacrifice is harmful. This draws boundaries around certain actions in the world. And even some things that would be ok out of love and self-sacrifice are rendered evil by doing them out of selfishness and/or fear.  

The Zoetic life is one of charity, forgiveness, and constant connection to God. God is love and so those who follow him live in love. The Somatic life is one of self-reference: I can forgive if I feel like it. I can love it I want or feel you deserve it.

Truth be told, most of us flicker back and forth between these two modes. Even the most worldly of persons might be struck by divine beauty or perform an act of selfless giving. Even the most spiritual of persons might wake up grumpy. A friend reported meeting Pope (now Saint) John Paul II at a general audience. When the Holy Father entered the room, someone in the press of people trod on his foot. (This was before the assassination attempt, and before the extra security.) The Pope grimaced and "gave a look". My friend said that from that moment he loved the Pope fully because he could see in that look a sign of hope for the rest of us. We dance along the Mason Dixon line between liberty and slavery always. It's hard not to give in to the old ways that should be gone with a Spiritual Wind. But they can seem so refined, so worldly, so stately. So natural. 

And the world cannot understand why we would ever want to do anything else. Why not just stay in this place, in this natural state, in this warm, comforting sleep? Why trouble with waking up? The red clay under our nails is a sign that we are from the earth, yes. But we can rise on the Spiritual Wind far above our past, to our rightful place.

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