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.