Thursday, December 30, 2010
6th Day of Christmas, continuing to savor and reflect on the Mystery of Christmas.
This silver freeze from early winter is an epiphany. God was always present in this tree and the space beyond, but the ice shows us the Divine, calls our attention to the Presence. The Greek "phan" in Epiphany is also in celophane which "shows" us what's inside a package.
We need signs and reminders of Divine Presence. The star was the sign for the Magi, so persuasive that they went out of their way to follow it "from the east." Our sign may well be the stars on a crystal clear winter night or a full moon on the winter solstice. Our star may be some extraordinary act of kindness or the jabbering of an infant. Whatever calls our attention to the Divine that is always present whether we notice or not.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
4th day of Christmas. Four colly birds, whatever they are. I forget.
I want to keep reflecting on Christmas during these 12 Days. The most revealing thought for me this year is God moving through dimensions we cannot imagine to become one of us. God so loved the world that God was willing to go to any lengths to hold the entire human race in his warm embrace. I have often used the quote, "Love came down at Christmas," but I don't think of God coming "down." Maybe "breaking through" from some other dimension is a more apt analogy. Behind it all is a Love that makes me gasp in wonder.
A brilliant day like today makes me think of God sort of "leaking through" from that other dimension. I took this picture right after the Lake froze two weeks ago, but it looks a lot like today, except we have more snow on the ground.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Being in the cave at Bethlehem where Jesus was born brought home to me more vividly than ever what a stretch it was for God to become a human being. I don't have words or concepts adequate to capture the distance. It's as if I might choose to become a gnat, except the gap between divine and human is a billion, trillion times greater than that. The Almighty, Ultimate Reality, the Lord of the Universe, humbled himself to become a human being like us, and humbled himself still further to be born in the back of a rough cave.
Part of the mystery of Christmas: God moving through dimensions we cannot imagine to become one of us.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Even though this cave is in Galilee, the guide used it to explain to us the cave where Jesus was born. He said that the people lived in the front part of the cave which is higher than the back part. The animals lived in the lower back part (of course it did not have columns.) There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the upper front part of the cave, so they were put in the lower back part with the animals. The guide pointed out that Luke in Greek uses the same word, "katalyma," for the space that had no room for Mary and Joseph and also for the space where Jesus arranged to eat the Last Supper with his disciples. Interesting that we sometimes speak of the the Last Supper taking place in the "Upper Room." I wondered whether this meant the Jesus and his disciples ate in the upper front part of a cave!
Because there was no room for Mary and Joseph in this front space, Luke says that the newborn baby was laid in a manger, an action he mentions three times in his brief account of the birth. The manger with hay in it for the animals would have been a rock shelf on the wall or a free standing trough. Ray Brown in his commentary, "The Birth of the Messiah," thinks that Luke wants to remind his readers of Isaiah 1:3 in which God complains, "The ox knows its owner; and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me; my people has not understood me." Now here in Bethlehem, Brown suggests, God's people have begun to know the manger of their Lord.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
A bookmark I got from the Ministry of the Arts has on it a joy-filled picture of snow falling on a person, head bent back, saying, "Opening my mouth to the snowing sky, I receive communion."
The quote on the bottom half of the card is from Mechthild of Magdeburg:
"The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw - and knew I saw - all things in God and God in all things."
Monday, December 13, 2010
Matthew 1:18-25 tells us about Joseph's reluctance to take Mary home as his wife after he finds out that she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. What proves fruitful for prayer for me in the passage are the names for the child. The angel tells Joseph he is to name the child Jesus (Hebrew is Jehoshua) which means "Yahweh saves," because he is the one who will save his people from their sins. The pilgrimage to Galilee brought home to me very forcefully the humanity of Jesus. God really did take on our full human nature to save all humanity.
Matthew quotes the prophet Isaiah who says that the child will be called "Emmanuel," which means "God-with-us." This name is repeated over and over again in my favorite Advent hymn and has always seemed to me so full of promise. I find it striking that Matthew repeats this promise at the end of his Gospel as Jesus says, "I am with you always." In Zefferelli's film "Jesus of Nazareth" he has the risen Jesus speaking these same words to his disciples in a very intimate atmosphere. It is deeply moving as the actor speaks them directly into the camera, directly to the viewer.
God within us and in others and in everything in our beautiful world is the heart of what Jesus means to me.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Today's freezing rain has confined me to the house. It's not as pretty as this freeze we had a few weeks ago.
It has given me time to meditate on Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast is today. I have been attracted to these appearances since I read a short story about them many years ago by John Steinbeck.
On December 9, 1531, Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego, an Indian peasant, on a hill in what is now the outskirts of Mexico City. What is so winning about her appearance if that she looks like an Indian, same features and olive skin.
She asked Juan Diego to go to the bishop and tell him that she wanted a temple built in her honor on the spot where she appeared. The bishop did not believe him. Once more Our Lady sent him. This time the bishop asked for a sign.
Our Lady appeared a third time on December 12 and told Juan Diego to gather in his cloak the roses of Castile fresh and lovely growing in a place where roses could not grow and blooming in a frosty month when roses do not bloom. She arranged the roses in his cloak and sent him to the bishop.
When he reached the bishop, Juan Diego said, "Here is the sign," and he released the corners of his cloak, and the roses uncrushed and unwilted fell to the floor. And then the bishop saw the cloak of Juan Diego and he got to his knees. On the rough cloak of the Indian Juan Diego was the image of Our Lady.
That cloak with the image on it is kept in the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. Under that title Mary is honored as the patroness of the Americas. I have seen pictures and statues of this image not only in Mexico and in our country but all over the Caribbean islands in dive shops and restaurants as well as churches. By having Mary appear as an Amerindian, God has shown his loving care for people of all races and has opened our hearts to share that love with every human being.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
After three days our pilgrimage left Jerusalem and dropped about 3,000 feet to Jericho, which at 1,200 feet below sea level is the lowest spot on earth. Through complicated checkpoints our bus crossed the Jordan River into the country of Jordan. We had to change buses and drivers and guides. Then we walked a hot, dusty trail to this spot on the River where John baptized Jesus. I stooped and scooped water over my head three times and felt cooled and close to Jesus.
In Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist is harsh and threatening as he demands, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." In Matthew 11:1-12 he sends disciples from prison to ask Jesus if he is the one John has been expecting. John has been expecting a Messiah who will be the agent of God's wrath and retribution. By echoing Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus shows John that he is initiating the messianic era, but with saving miracles and concern for the poor.
The rule of God which Jesus inaugurates is powered by God's gracious love. Mark and Luke call it "the kingdom of God." Matthew, following the Jewish practice of substituting some metaphor for God's holy name, calls it "the kingdom of Heaven." They are all talking about God's ruling the world with an overwhelming love.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
This is Korea's contribution to the depictions of Mary in the courtyard of the Church of the Annunciation.
The Greek that Luke uses in his account of the angel's greeting to Mary means "Rejoice, O favored one." Raymond Brown, in his commentary points out that the Hebrew name Hannah means "favored one." The "Magnificat," the song that Mary sings when she visits Elizabeth echoes the song that Hannah sings in the Old Testament when she finds out that she is pregnant, even though she thought she could never have a child (2 Samuel 2:1-10.) The song is a beautiful expression of dependence on God. Mary does not win God's favor. She has been and remains filled with God's favor. God always takes the initiative.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The Church of the Annunciation in Galilee was one of my favorite churches in the Holy Land. It is new and has brilliant stained glass windows. Inside the church and in a large courtyard outside there were depictions of the Annunciation from a large number of countries in a wide variety of styles and materials. Each country usually depicted the figures to look like they belonged to that country. Most of them were really beautiful. My favorite was this one from the Phillipines.
By having Mary and the angel and Jesus look like they came from all these different countries helped me to think that when God took on our flesh, it wasn't just as the individual Jesus who walked the roads of the Holy Land. God entered into all flesh, all humanity, all the world. Teilhard de Chardin said, "By virtue of creation, and still more of the Incarnation, there is nothing profane for those who know how to see."
Monday, December 6, 2010
I had an enjoyable evening with the group that I went with to the Holy Land. On a three hour drive home Saturday morning I found myself caught up in the ordinary beauty around me, scenery I had often enjoyed when it was more beautiful. For some reason I woke feeling great and that mood continued and made me happier the more I drove. A thought that popped into my head was, "God, my heart's not big enough for all this joy." There is a kind of ache that accompanies this much joy. Another kind of pilgrimage.
This is the scene that greeted me when I got home, just adding to my joy. There are a flock of Canada geese on the left, resting I guess on their journey south (clicking on the picture enlarges it.) Starting yesterday and continuing today the heavy snow and wind have hidden the far shore from me. I saw another flock of geese trying to fly south in the storm. Snow piles up and everything looks lovely. It feels good that there is no place I have to be.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
I don't have any pictures of a lion lying down with a lamb, but a picture like this helps me to think of the Garden of Eden. Isaiah 11:6-9 promises a return to the harmony of Paradise where even the animals got along with one another. The One who is coming will restore the original bliss in which we were created. Each human being will recognize God living in the wonderful variety of all human beings and come to live with them in loving harmony.
"No hurt, no harm will be done
on all my holy mountain,
for the country will be full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea."
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
On a visit to the seminary earlier in the month, as I walked down a long hallway, I noticed statues of the Magi and a camel sitting in some window sills. It looked like they had just been gotten out of storage and just put in the handiest place. Then next day I noticed that they had moved on to the next window sills and were deliberately arranged. When I returned to the seminary two weeks later the Magi and their camel had moved much farther along and were now arranged on the window sills with some pine. (I have always been a little annoyed that the three have to share one camel. In my main nativity set I made sure they each have their own camel.) I found the travels of these statues a nice reminder to get started on our way to Bethlehem.
As our pilgrimage walked down into the canyons of Petra in Jordan we heard clopping sounds behind us and I turned just in time to snap this picture of a camel driver heading down to the "marketplace" where he would provide rides for eager tourists.
The story of the Magi always helps me to think about leaving the familiar and starting on the way to something new and strange. There is always some reluctance to let go of the old, but my liberal heart is always sure that around the next corner there will be a better view, a clearer truth.
Monday, November 29, 2010
"Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation
of the spiritual life."
I don't wait well in line or in traffic. Advent is perfect time to let the Magi's camels, and especially Mary, teach me how to wait.
I took this picture in the "marketplace" of Petra in Jordan.
Friday, November 26, 2010
God will end conflict between nations,
and settle disputes between peoples;
they will hammer swords to plows,
and spears to pruning knives.
Nations will not take up arms,
will no longer train for war.
A perfect hope-filled verse to begin Advent.
We pray for peace in the world, but I'm not sure we really think that a world without war is possible. I grew up in the Second World War and cheered for our troops in the newsreels before movies and took for granted that war was a way to solve problems. Our military is part of the fabric of our country. We hardly note that the war in Afghanistan is costing us 100 billion dollars a year. We see nothing strange about someone who decides to make his career in war. Yet God promises to put an end to it.
Jesus tells us that all who take the sword will perish by the sword, that we should turn the other cheek, that we should pray for our enemies. Do I really believe that what he asks is sensible?
Hope is possible only when the future is black. If we can see a logical way through our problems, there is no need for hope. The Christmas angels promise peace on earth. Advent is the season of hope.
(The picture is what yesterday's silver freeze looked like on the ground.)
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
This is a neighbor's garden a few weeks back, the sight itself something to be thankful for.
The other night I watched "Like Stars on Earth," an Indian movie about a nine year old boy who has dyslexia. I found the first two-thirds of the movie tedious as it established that this little boy could not read or write. He gradually became depressed because nobody guessed what was wrong with him and kept criticizing him for being lazy and stubborn. Finally a temporary art teacher recognizes his dyslexia and helps him to learn how to cope with it. This last third of the movie packs a strong emotion wallop. I found myself in happy tears.
When it was over I thought about how I tell people that I am becoming dyslexic, but I realized that my mixing up letters was nothing compared to what this boy went through. I suddenly experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my health and for who I am and for what I am and for what I am doing. There was no listing in my mind of all the people I knew who were sick but there was an all-encompassing awareness of them. There was also no listing of all God's gifts to me but a deep awareness of being blessed and of being possessed by a great thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The first place our pilgrimage went on our first morning in Jerusalem was the Mount of Olives. From here there is that great view of Jerusalem. Next to the Church called "The Lord Wept" is a small fenced in garden of olive trees. Some of these trees actually could have been here in the time of Jesus. Olive trees are known to last sometimes more than 2,000 years. This one looks like an old man and there was another with an even larger trunk. Three men and a woman were harvesting the olives while we were there. They spread a large cloth under the tree and shake the tree. One man is on a ladder. I didn't notice what we was doing.
Before the trip I had envisioned sitting quietly in the garden which Mark and Matthew call "Gethsemane." Of course I was disappointed, but it was satisfying to see some olive trees that Jesus might have seen. Luke calls it the "Mount of Olives." John says that Jesus and the disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and entered a "garden." They are all, however, in agreement that this is where Jesus prayed that he might not suffer and yet accepted whatever God willed for him.
The same Jesus living within me can bring my will in line with God's.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Today's calendar has a quote from Pedro Arrupe, a former Jesuit superior:
"Fall in love, stay in love, it will decide everything."
This November morning just as the rising sun was picking out a far shore. Trees bare. Summer forgotten.
(The calendar comes from the sisters at Ministry of the Arts.)
Monday, November 8, 2010
This Western Wall is what's left of the Temple that existed in the time of Jesus. It is a holy place of prayer. Some people put their petitions on a piece of paper and stick it between the stones of the wall. I put my hand on the Wall and prayed for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (I'm not sure what those shadows are.)
As Luke 21:5-19 begins people are praising the Temple's beauty. About 20 BC King Herod had begun a magnificent restoration of the Second Temple. After his death, this work continued until 63 AD. Only 7 years later the Romans destroyed the Temple.
In the first part of this passage this is what Jesus is talking about. This becomes part of a longer apocalyptic passage that speaks of natural disasters and signs in the heavens and betrayal by families. The apocalyptic style of writing can be very frightening, but oddly its intention is to comfort. It uses extravagant images to get across the message that no matter how terrible things look, our all-powerful God is looking out for us and making sure that good triumphs over evil. This is captured in verse 18: "Not a hair of your head will be harmed."
Friday, November 5, 2010
The first morning that we were in Jerusalem we went across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Olives, which is right next to a cemetery that provides this grand view of the city of Jerusalem. All the buildings in the city must be of limestone which makes the city shine on its hilltop.
The gold dome is a Muslim shrine that marks the site where Mohammed ascended into heaven. To its left inside the city wall is the Western Wall, a site holy to Jews because it is all that is left of the Temple which was destroyed in the first century. Other towers and domes mark some of the Christian sites such as the Holy Sepulchre. It is hard to ignore the fact that this city is sacred to the world's three great monotheistic religions.
I prayed that it would one day live up to its name which means "City of Peace."
The tombs in the foreground are covered with stones, a Jewish practice that shows that someone has visited the grave. (It is not customary for them to use flowers.) Some think that the practice originated when only a pile of rocks marked the site of a grave and this was a way of maintaining the pile.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The circle inside the star is a hole through which I could see the floor of the cave where Jesus was born. This is under an altar in a small "room". We each knelt and kissed the star. A good spiritual experience.
We had celebrated Mass earlier in a cave where St. Jerome lived in the 4th century while he was translating the Bible into Latin. His cave is right next to the one where Jesus was born. There are many caves in the area that people lived in 2000 years ago. I found it very confining, but not so much as the Holy Sepulchre chapel in Jerusalem.
I was meditating on the verse from John's Gospel "The Word became flesh and lived among us." The thought came to me that if I could not find God in the mass of human flesh that was crowding us everywhere we went I would not find God in the Holy Land. The phrase "ammong us" in the original Greek of the Gospel means literally "in us." That makes finding God in the crowds even more profound.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Last night I dreamt that I was on a hillside looking for the spot where Jesus was crucified. Two women showed me two places that were "maybe" and advised me to settle for one of those. A young man took me to another spot that he said was the very place. Suddenly I awoke with mean cramps in both of my calves!
I guess this dream captures my disappointment in not seeing the hill of Calvary in the Holy Land. I did not realize that churches had been built over most of the important places to the extent that I could not see a hill. The same was true for the Empty Tomb. No garden to see. I expected a church to be beside Calvary or within a garden where I could see the Holy Sepulchre.
This is the best picture I could get of the area. It is the outside of the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre. I got the impression that the chapel is like a little church built inside a very large church which contains other segregated spaces. There were 25 of us priests and we had gotten permission to celebrate Mass in the cave where Jesus' tomb is located. We went through this door into an outer chamber where most of us gathered, while a few of us at a time stooped and went into the tiny cave. The altar in the cave is built over the Tomb. It is more abundantly decorated than this area outside the chapel.
If memory serves me, we climbed some steps from there to the chapel of the Crucifixion, just the opposite of the direction the body of Jesus was carried. What I remember most vividly of that space were life-size images of the Crucified Jesus and two other figures (Mary and John?)covered entirely with silver that reflected light so brightly that I could not get an adequate picture.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I felt God's presence here more powerfully than in any of the shrines of the Holy Land. One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Petra is in the country of Jordan. The towering canyon walls are majestic. I know that God is always present in me and around me, but this was one of those extraordinary times in my life when God allowed me to feel God's presence in a very intense and joyful way.
The two mile walk down into the canyon was more beautiful with every turn. The famous "Treasury," which is really a grand tomb, is carved into the rock face and presents a stunning appearance as we emerge from the narrower canyon into a more open sort of "town square." Once there our guide left us on our own. I enjoyed the excitement and bustle for about ten minutes, but I wanted to experience the canyon alone, so I started a very slow and meditative walk back up. At times I was completely alone, no one in sight. Just me and these great walls and God.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee. Neat that I got the Holy Spirit dipping into the water.
My favorite day in the Holy Land was the first day we spent in Galilee. I woke early and went for a swim in the Sea. I found myself thinking that Jesus and his disciples probably bathed in these waters every morning and perhaps also after a hot sweaty day. Then that got me thinking about all the other ordinary things that we human beings do every day that Jesus and his disciples must have done. It brought home vividly to me how really human Jesus was. "The Word became flesh and lived among us." The Greek verb translated "lived" means literally "pitched his tent among us."
We went for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was easy from the boat to see, sloping down to the shore,the hillsides where Jesus taught and where he fed five thousand. It was easy to imagine him and his friends in a boat on the same sea. I thought how happy they must have been just to be with one another.
This is how it all began: a man looking pretty much like any man whose personality and conversation caught people's attention and made him some close friends. Pitched his tent among us indeed!
Saturday, October 9, 2010
On my way to the beach one day on the Big Island of Hawaii I saw this little church and I stopped to check it out. One of the stained glass windows is of a man I much admired when I was young. We called him "Damien the Leper." His last name is de Vuester. October 11 a year ago he was canonized Saint Damien of Molokai.
In 1865 when he came from Belgium to work as a missionary in Hawaii, his first parish was on the Big Island. This church was the third church built to serve that parish. Not many years ago it was in the path of lava from an erupting volcano. The parishioners valued its connection with St. Damien so they moved it to its present location.
In 1873 Damien volunteered to move to an isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai to minister to a colony of about 800lepers that the government had quarantined there. He spent 16 years caring for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the lepers before he got the disease himself and eventually died.
He wrote to his brother in Europe, "I make myself a leper with the lepers to win them all to Jesus Christ."