Tuesday, March 30, 2010
This evening's sunset.
I used chapter three of St. Paul's Letter to the Colossians for prayer this morning to help me think about what difference the Resurrection of Jesus makes in my life. Paul says, "If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God....you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." Jesus died out of this world of sin and darkness and rose into a new life of love and light, and he took us with him. We don't have to wait until we die. That new life is not off somewhere in the sky. It is available to us right here, right now. Another dimension. The risen Jesus is the portal through which we enter. He makes us belong to God, makes us holy in this Holy Week.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Yesterday about 4 PM the lake became ice-free. The ice had been breaking up for a few days and yesterday's 70 degrees and sunshine freed the lake of its winter bondage.
As I continue to reflect on "salvation" I find that the Hebrew root of the word "signifies primarily the possession of space and the freedom and security which is gained by the removal of contriction" (John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible.) It's opposite would be something like narrowness and straits. God "saved" Israel by freeing them from slavery in Egypt.
In the New Testament Jesus "saves" people by freeing them from illness. In his dying and rising Jesus "saves" us from sin, frees us from sin. I find thinking of "salvation" as freedom from sin very helpful.
Sin constricts and narrows our relationship with others and with God. Jesus frees us from that constriction and narrowness and makes us more expansive in loving God and others. Jesus gradually melts our icy hearts and makes space there for more and more love.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Irises just begin to push up through the tiny gravel that was spread on the icy roads and then plowed onto the side when the deep snows came. I saw them as I began my morning walk. I felt my heart lift at this smallest sign of spring, the first I've seen here in these mountains. I wondered what lifts people's hearts in climates that don't experience spring. I was struck how the irises have been saved from the smothering gravel.
"Save" is an important word in Luke's account of the suffering and death of Jesus. Three times Luke ironically has those who mock Jesus state who he really is and what he is doing. The leaders scoff, "He saved others: let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers make fun of him, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" One of the criminals hanging beside him derides him, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
Jesus on the cross shows himself the Savior as he prays, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And to the criminal who asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Pradise."
Almost despite ourselves, Jesus saves us from sin and death.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
In his Confession St. Patrick tells us that he was not yet 16 years old when he was kidnapped from his home in Britain and sold into slavery in Ireland. He worked alone as a shepherd. Even though he had not been a religious boy, he began spending a lot of time in prayer. He describes one of these prayer experiences this way: "Now I know this was because the Holy Spirit was glowing within me. Once again I saw Him praying within me, and it was as if He were in my body. And I heard Him over me, that is, over my inner self, and He was praying mightily and groaning. All the while I was astonished and amazed, wondering who it could be who was praying within me. But at the end of the prayer, He spoke to me, saying that He was the Spirit."
This makes it pretty clear that prayer is God's work.
Friday, March 12, 2010
My mother used to say, "You throw money around like a drunken sailor!" I don't know what she knew about sailors since we lived hundreds of miles from the ocean, but it's a good description of the "prodigal" son.
The father in the story is even more "prodigal." It's love that he throws around in such a crazy way.
Jesus wants us to know that God our Father has more love than God knows what to do with. God is overflowing Love, spilling Love into our world without a caution about whom it touches. There is absolutely nothing we can do that will turn that Love off. We can turn away from It as the prodigal son did; or take It for granted as his brother did. We can do nothing to earn It. All that's necessary is to let go, let ourselves be held, embraced, possessed, drawn totally into Gracious Love.
God also throws Beauty around with abandon.
(Do you know that you can enlarge the pictures on the blog just by clicking on them?)
My favorite passage in the New Testament is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32.) Many years ago I had an unforgettable experience at a ballet based on this parable.
The last scene begins with the son, almost naked, making his way back home after wasting all of his inheritance. He crawls painfully along from stage left. His father in splendid robes, looking like an Old Testament patriarch, stands still on stage right with his arms open wide. When the son reaches the father he begins remarkably to pull himself up the father's body. As he puts his arms around his father's neck, his father closes his arms around his son in a magnificent embrace and the son disappears completely in the father's robes, entirely one with his father. At that moment I felt myself caught up out of my theater seat into our Father's loving embrace.
This experience has had a profound influence on the way I understand my relationship with God. Like the son, I see myself as absolutely nothing on my own. No way I can earn my way into union with our Father. It is entirely our Father's unearned love that welcomes me home and holds me in His warm embrace forever.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
This morning I hiked on the same snowmobile trails as yesterday, only in the opposite direction. The sameness and the silence in this wood is what attracts me. The only sound is the crunch of my boots on the snow. I stop every once in a while, not just to look around at the unchanging view, but to "listen" to the silent wood.
After breakfast I was again reading Richard Rohr's The Naked Now. In a chapter on not making judgments he writes, "The mind wants a job and loves to process things. The key to stopping this game is, quite simply, peace, silence, or stillness. This was always seen as God's primary language, 'with everything else being a very poor translation,' as Fr. Thomas Keating wisely observes. I would even say that on the practical level, silence and God will be experienced simultaneously--and even as the same thing."
Monday, March 8, 2010
This morning I walked longer than usual. It was very sunny and 32 degrees. I walked on some snowmobile trails up through the woods behind my house. Within a few minutes I was out of site of any road or houses. Just following a well packed trail. It felt wonderful being alone with the Alone.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Today is Michelangelo's birthday. I know of three sculptures of his that depict the dead Jesus after he has been taken down from the Cross. The most famous and prettiest is the one in St. Peter's Basilica that Michelangelo did when he was 21: a very young Mary holds Jesus in her lap.
This is a picture of the one I like best. I think Michelangelo did it late in life. It is not smooth and lovely. It is rough and crude. It seems almost modern in style. It tells me how much Jesus has suffered
Friday, March 5, 2010
To me, Exodus 3:13-15 is the most important passage in the Old Testament. God comes to Moses in the Burning Bush. Like God, Fire is impossible to grasp. It is powerful. It purifies. It gives light.
Moses asks God's name. God replies "I AM Who I AM." In our alphabet the consonants of that phrase are YHWH. There are a few other ways that the Hebrew can be translated and there are a number of scholarly opinions about what it means. I find myself siding with those who think that God is refusing to give a name. God is saying in effect, "Just be content to know that I am who I am. You cannot comprehend me; don't try to reduce me to a name."
In a way the Jewish practice of never saying YHWH out loud seems content with that reply. The practice accepts the fact that we can never completely understand who God is. We have no word or concept that can completely capture the Mystery.
I wonder if using "God" to name the Mystery domesticates It and makes me think of Someone too concrete to be the Almighty. Centering Prayer helps me to keep a sense the Mystery.
This picture that I took yesterday also helps me sit in awe before YHWH.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I continue to think about Karl Rahner's saying: The devout Christian of the future will either be a "mystic"... or he will cease to be anything at all. When I began this blog three years ago, one of the words I used to describe myself was "mystic." I thought that someone googling "mystic" might find my blog, but the word has come to mean things quite different from the way I understand myself.
In his book The Naked Now Richard Rohr says that a mystic is simply "one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience." This reflects my understanding that what matters most in religion is our union with God, our relationship with God.
When I walked this morning this scene stopped me. It's pretty ordinary. Maybe it was the variety of subtle colors or the way they related to each other, but I stopped and just looked for a while. As I looked I became aware of God's presence. When I continued walking these images stayed with me, as did the awareness of God's presence. On my way back I took this picture.
This kind of contemplation and inner experience has little to do with what religion I belong to or with what doctrines I believe. It has to do with God seizing me in this extremely natural way. That's what I understand as mysticism. Mystical experience is available to anybody who is willing to let themselves be seized. I hope that is what Rahner means when he says it is essential that we be mystics. We cannot be satisfied with reciting prayers or going to church or any "religious practices," unless they bring us to this inner experience of the Divine.