Thursday, December 31, 2009
I took this picture last night when the moon was a little less than full. Yesterday and today I tried to find our why a second full moon in a month is called "blue." Turns out even calling it a blue moon is questionable for some astronomical reasons that I didn't quite get. It seems that the phrase "once in a blue moon" is much older, like 400 years, than the practice of naming a particular full moon "blue." That just compounds the mystery.
Well, we do know why tonight is called New Year's Eve. A good time to look back on 2009, evaluate how we did, especially how we grew in our relationship with God. Then no beating ourselves or patting ourselves on the back. We just let it go and look ahead to 2010 and a happy new year.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
One of the passages that Matthew echoes in his story of the Magi is Isaiah 60:1-6. This pre-dawn blazing in the sky seems to suit "Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; the Presence of the Lord has shone upon you." I find it interesting that this Jewish translation (Tanakh)capitalizes "Presence" as well as "Lord." The passage is full of light. The prophet is probably talking to the people just recently returned from Exile. The Lord's light will make the people themselves a light for others: "And nations shall walk by your light, kings by your shining radiance."
God is light and lives within us. This light isn't to be kept just for our own comfort. Jesus warned us not to keep our light under a basket. God within sets us ablaze as well and makes us light for others. Rather than let people get lost in darkness, our shining radiance will light their way.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Christmas morning everybody was iced in. Church cancelled. I spent some cozy time by the fire with the first eighteen verses of John's Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God," brought to my imagination some of those awesome images of space from the Hubble telescope. That's probably as close as my imagination can get to eternity. "And the Word became flesh and made his home among us." The Greek means "pitched his tent among us," but we don't live in tents; "made his home among us" has a warm feeling for me. This picture of sunlight on snow covering field and trees is an earthly contrast to the space images.
"No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son who is close to his Father's heart, who has made him known." Now Jesus draws us close to his heart so we can show God to our world.
I wanted more so I spent another two hours listening to a CD: Messiaen's Twenty Looks at the Infant Jesus. The first one is a "look" at God and then on through angels and Mary and the child and the Cross. The style of music helps me think of the eternal born into time. One "look" is about the duration of Mary's pregnancy which he calls "the first and greatest of all communions," and helps me reflect on the presence of Jesus within me, within all humanity.
The ice turned out to be a wonderful Christmas gift for me.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
We are told that many people get depressed at Christmastime because their expectations are too high, and the reality of Christmas can't live up to them.
How about expecting a baby in a manger to be God! That was beyond anybody's expectation. Yet the angel announces to the shepherds and to us that this child is not only Savior and Messiah, but God. This is as unexpected as the brightness of full noon bursting upon the world at midnight. Yet that's what Christmas is celebrating. That's the heart of the Christmas mystery: God became flesh and made his home among us.
God didn't just come into town, defeat the bad guys, and ride off into the sunset, like the hero in a western movie. God moved into our world to stay. God loves us enough to remain here, to be part of our lives, really to be part of humanity, to live in us for good.
So we can keep our expectations for Christmas as high as we like. We won't be disappointed: a child who is Savior, Messiah, and God.
Just as the sun rose this morning in the east behind the camera it reflected off the windows of a house on a hill northwest of me.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Yesterday I used Isaiah 9:1-6 for my scripture reflection. I don't know why, but I always read this passage trying to think of myself in darkness and weighed down. For the past few years I have not felt weighed down. Yesterday for the first time I noticed that the text says the bad times are past. That fits me better.
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth." I thought of the solstice and the light now beginning to win out again. I found myself remembering some of the really dark times in my life and thanking God for the light taking away the darkness.
"...as people rejoice at harvest time..." reminded me that I am in the autumn of my life and made me think of all the good that God has done through me and of all the good that has been done to me. Such a harvest fills me with joy.
"For a son has been born for us....Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince of Peace, to extend his dominion in boundless peace...." I thought of the wisdom that God shares with me more and more as I grow older. I reflected on our God who is not only all powerful but an eternally loving Father. All of these reflections bring me contentment and joy, boundless peace.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Yesterday I took some time to reflect on the nativity story in Luke (2:1-20.) The line that catches me most this year is "Today in the city of David there has been born to you Savior who is Messiah Lord." I found it instructive that in his Greek text Luke does not precede these three titles with either "a" or "the," so here I am translating the last five words as they appear in the Greek, even though it is not good English. Luke does not have the angel say that Jesus is "a" savior. He is simply "Savior." "Messiah" is the Hebrew word and "Christos" is the Greek word for "Anointed One." Rather than pronounce God's proper name the Jews used the title "Lord" which Luke translates into his Greek as "Kurios." It is the only time in the New Testament that "Christos Kurios" are used together this way. Luke is having the angel announce here three titles for this baby: Savior, Christ, and God.
The baby lying in the manger is clearly human. Many famous paintings have the baby totally naked to stress that he is a human male. But the angel announces that this baby is also God. The angel challenges the shepherds and us with the profound mystery that the baby lying in the manger is fully divine as well as fully human. I feel myself drawn down into this reality that is beyond my complete comprehension. I am not back with shepherds on the hillside. I am here now. The Jesus whom I meet now in this mystery is no longer a baby. He is the Risen Savior, Christ, and God. He is out beyond the stretching of the farthest star and he is living within me. Peace and Joy!
Monday, December 21, 2009
"The Christian mystics teach us that there should always be more waiting than striving in our prayer."
--Abbot Christopher Zielinski
I remember thinking that the more effort I put into my prayer the more pleased God would be with it. A lot of people talk about distractions at prayer and about not working hard enough at it. This time of Advent and especially these days right before Christmas are good days to learn that the better part of prayer is waiting. We sit ourselves down and take time out and let God take over. Prayer is God's work. Our part is waiting.
This view stopped me in my tracks this morning and made me be still.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
We don't often think about the influence the mothers of John the Baptist and of Jesus had on their sons. Here's an illuminating quote from Jann Cather Weaver:
Mary and Elizabeth were women living in a time when, not unlike aspects of today, religion had become fossilized, seeking to control society rather than transform society. They, however, sought to live radically faithful lives in response to the call from their God. Not unexpectedly, these women lived lives like those of their soon-to-be-born sons. Do we think John and Jesus just "knew" how to live radically faithful lives? how to be preachers? how to be as eloquent as the Magnificat? how to be healers? John and Jesus knew how to live radically faithful lives because they were sons of two women who had faithfully faced a terrifying yet expectant reality.
The picture is my driveway at 9 AM with more than a foot of snow and it hasn't stopped since then. It's now 2:15 PM.
Friday, December 18, 2009
I saw a little boy jumping up and down as his father handed him a puppy. I saw a little girl get off the school bus and go skipping up her driveway. Adults jump for joy on the dance floor and when they've made a winning touchdown. My father once lying on the couch, watching a Notre Dame game, got so excited his whole body jumped and ended up on the floor. In the finale of the ballet "The Nutcracker" Mikhail Baryshnikov jumps amazingly over and over to the joyful music of Tchaikovsky.
In chapter one of Luke's Gospel when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visits Elizabeth, her cousin tells her, "The moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb jumped for joy." The Greek Luke uses is also used of a lamb frolicking in the fields. Earlier the angel Gabriel, announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist, tells his father, Zechariah, "He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth." When Gabriel appears to Mary his greeting in the Greek means, not "Hail," but "Rejoice!" In announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds the angel says, "I bring you good news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people." In Luke's whole Gospel everybody jumps for joy!
The presence of Jesus in ourselves and in others makes us jump for joy.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
As darkness deepens and death claims the weakened we still hope that light and life will triumph. I just came across this morning this quote:
The authentically hopeful Christmas spirit has not looked away from the darkness, but straight into it. The true and victorious Christmas spirit does not look away from death, but directly at it. Advent begins in the dark.
Monday, December 14, 2009
A friend has died recently whom I did not expect to be without this Christmas. We never know. Here's a poem by William Henry Harrison Murray that I have liked for a long time that reminds us to hold family and friends close this Christmas.
Ah, friends, dear friends, as years go on
and heads get gray,
how fast the guests do go!
Touch hands, touch hands,
with those that stay.
Strong hands to weak,
old hands to young,
around the Christmas board, touch hands.
The false forget, the foe forgive,
for every guest will go
and every fire burn low
and cabin empty stand.
Forget, forgive, for who may say
that Christmas day may ever come
to host or guest again.
A shining reflection in the Lake of this morning's rising sun catching the tips of these trees.
Mary's joy is a reflection of the presence within her of God becoming human. John the Baptist in his mother's womb "jumped for joy" at the presence of Jesus in Mary's womb. Our Advent joy is the reflection of God living in us right now and loving us graciously.
Teilhard de Chardin said, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God."
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The minor prophet Zephaniah, in his brief book, speaks mostly of bad things happening, but he finishes his book on a very happy note. I particularly like the New Jerusalem Bible's translation of one verse of that ending, speaking of God:
"He will rejoice over you with happy song,
he will renew you by his love,
he will dance with shouts of joy for you,
as on a day of festival." (3:17)
This is a really joyful God, not only singing, but dancing, and for us. I think of the kind of circle dance that Greek and Jewish men do and that Jesus and his Apostles most likely did at the Last Supper. Our dancing God takes our hands and draws all of us into the circle of renewing love.
The picture was yesterday's sunshine transforming the previous night's disastrous ice storm into radiant beauty.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
One of the images that helps me to think about what we mean by original sin is the current flu epidemic. Original sin is not an act but a situation into which we are born, a world where sin is an epidemic. What we celebrate in today's feast is that God made Mary immune to this sin epidemic. From the first moment of her existence she was free of this sin of the world, or to put it more positively, "full of grace." Today's Gospel is about the conception of Jesus (not of Mary), but it is chosen because the angel calls her "full of grace."
Monday, December 7, 2009
I have spent a lot of my life wanting everyone to be treated equally. In the early sixties I joined the NAACP and worked for equal housing opportunities for blacks. I went to the March on Washington where I felt part of something very big happening in our country. Integration and racial justice! A lot was achieved, but we are far from welcoming everyone to the American dream. Mexicans and Muslims seem to be the bad guys now.
I grew up in a Catholic Church that saw ourselves as God's chosen. We would be saved. Maybe some others, but they would be exceptions. I remember arguing with a professor in the seminary that it didn't seem fair. Even in this arena I wanted everybody to be treated equally, not just other Christians, but Buddhists and Hindus and certainly Jews. I don't remember thinking much about Muslims in those days. There was a growing conviction in me that God loved every human being the same as every other. I wasn't sure, though, that I should say that out loud.
It turned out that that conviction was growing also in a lot of other Catholics. Theologians came up with different ways to explain it, but there was a growing sense that God did not create 70% of the human race to send them to hell. It finally became official Catholic teaching when all the bishops of the world together told us that "the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every human being the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery." (Vatican II's Church in the Modern World 22)
"All flesh shall see the saving power of God." (Luke quoting Isaiah)
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I find it helpful during Advent to keep myself focused on the present coming of Jesus at every moment into our lives. Jesus lives in us always. God can help us during Advent to cultivate a stillness that enables us to reflect on the constant presence of Jesus in us and in the people and things around us.
The most profound artistic expression of this truth that I know of is in Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." I first became aware of it in a TV version starring Geraldine Page with a narration by Capote himself. It proved so popular that a slim gift book of the short piece was published at that time. I read it again last night and I will watch the old TV show sometime soon.
In the climax of the story the seven year old Truman and an old cousin who is his best friend are lying in the grass watching their kites cavort, when she says, "My, how foolish I am! I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are, just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me I could leave the world with today in my eyes."
(This picture of course was taken a while back when the trees were still in color and the sunrise highlighted them on the opposite shore.)
Friday, November 27, 2009
Our first significant snow must have begun in the early morning. By 7:30 AM it was about an inch. When I cleared my car around 2 PM it had about 4 inches on it. Everything but the roads was covered. I took this picture around 9 AM when I went for my walk. It's a moist snow, clinging to the bushes and trees even as I write this at 3:40 PM. Fairyland. I'm sure this made me happier than any amount of shopping might have.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Since 1776 kings and queens haven't had much meaning for us, so what do we make of a feast called "Christ the King"?
In John's account of Jesus before Pontius Pilate Jesus says in effect that "king" is not the way he thinks of himself.
One way I find helpful to think of this feast is that Jesus wants to be the dominant influence in my life, the center, the reason I live. His strategy for winning our hearts is simple - He loves us. Such powerful love is irresistible. We drop our defenses and surrender ourselves totally to Jesus.
I remember when, after communion, I would finish drinking the Blood of Christ left in the chalice and rinse it out, I would talk to Jesus moving in this sacramental way into my bloodstream. I would ask Jesus to make my blood his, to make my body his, to change my mind into his so I would see things with his eyes, to make my will his so that I would want what he wants, to turn my heart into his heart so that I would love the way that he loves.
If I could let that happen and every Christian could let that happen, then Jesus really would be our "king."
(The picture is the grand basilica at St. Vincent's in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.)
Friday, November 20, 2009
I keep meeting people who don't know what to do with themselves in retirement. After more than three years my doing nothing or very little has suited me, but I realize that would not suit others. Part of the problem is that we identify ourselves with the work we do. Joan Chittister in her book called The Gift of Years:Growing Old Gracefully says, "Even to use the word 'retired' makes employment the center and fulcrum of life." What are we when we are not what we used to do?
She says that the French call the time after retirement "The Third Age", a helpful way to think of it. Just another way of being. If we haven't begun already, it's a time to find meaning in life by being rather than doing. By being in relationship with others and with God.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I awoke this morning to 34 swans gliding into our cove. It was a dark rainy morning and their whiteness brightened the surface of the water. I tried several times to get an adequate picture of the flock but failed. This picture is the clearest. Like God, their beauty eludes us.
I suspect these swans were forced down here by the heavy fog. It has been many years since swans were in our cove. A neighbor who loved swans was very excited by their presence. They stayed several days and then flew off one bright moonlit night. A few days later he died. It was as if they took him with them when they went.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Sometimes when I am praying I find myself thinking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father as a intense circle of love into which I am inserted. The circle is within me and spins me outside of myself into another plane of existence where time ceases.
It is so hard to find words to talk about God and our relationship with God. St. Augustine says that when we think we've got it, then what we've got isn't God. Names and images can help us get some sense of the Divine. I'm sure that's why nature and art are so important to me as glimpses of God.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I have known for many years that apocalyptic writing uses deliberately exaggerated natural and cosmic disasters to make the point that, no matter what evil is out there, God has already triumphed over it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The war is won. There may yet be a few skirmishes here and there, but evil has been definitively defeated. We can count on God to take care of us.
But I would sometimes catch myself wondering why the apocalyptic imagery had to be so terrible and frightening. Yesterday I got to thinking that what this style is saying is that the tragedies and difficulties in our lives and in our world are merely faint echoes of the extreme disasters described in apocalyptic. If God triumphs over such extreme imaginary evil, then he certainly has the power to protect us from whatever real evil threatens to destroy us.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Last Sunday morning's sunshine was glistening on bare branches and making a stark November day splendid. When I turned from this scene and started walking home everything was so glorious I gasped out loud, "Oh my God!" I felt at one with road and woods and weeds and the Radiance.