Saturday, April 30, 2011



Comfort with ambiguity is a requirement for anyone who is trying to have a serious relationship with God. "Why doesn't God make himself clear!" is a complaint I have made and have heard many others make through the years.
O'Donohue makes the point that Celtic consciousness is a wild yet serene complexity. He says, "The Celtic mind was never drawn to the single line; it avoided ways of seeing and being that seek satisfaction in certainty." Celts used the circle which "never reduces the mystery to a single direction or preference."
I think of the man who came up beside me as I was looking in a store window in Ireland. I told him I was interested in the "Seltic" design on some of the jewelry in the window. He said, "Some people say 'Seltic;' others say 'Keltic.'" No need to nail it down.
O'Donohue uses the expression "neon vision" to talk about the harsh certitude that some people want about the soul and about God. He says, "The Celtic mind had a wonderful respect for the mystery and depth of the individual soul. The Celts recognized that the shape of each soul is different; the spiritual clothing one person wears can never fit the soul of another."
Absolute clarity about God and things religious will never happen. "The glimpse is sufficient."
All this points again to the flexibility of Celtic spirituality that I find so attractive.
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Friday, April 29, 2011



In his book "Anam Cara" John O'Donohue says Celtic spirituality is more a matter of mindfulness than of will. Many spiritualities recommend methods and structures. This author says, "We should not force ourselves to change by hammering our lives into any predetermined shape. We do not need to operate according to the idea of a predetermined program or plan for our lives. Rather, we need to practice a new art of attention to the inner rhythm of our days and lives." This makes for a more flexible spirituality.
While my present relationship with God owes a lot to several structured spiritualities, I have also found myself through the years more and more willing to follow my heart. I have encouraged others to do the same when they found that a particular approach seemed no longer to be helpful. When I was no longer looking forward to prayer, to a particular form that I had been using, it turned out to be the way God had of helping me to move on to another kind of prayer.
Celtic spirituality seems even more flexible than this. O'Donohue says, "Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape." When I accept the conviction that the Spirit of Love envelopes and permeates my whole being, then I follow the promptings of that Spirit by paying attention to what my heart and soul are telling me. Spirituality then becomes a matter, not of wilfulness, but of mindfulness.
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Thursday, April 28, 2011



I just went back and read the second half of my last entry. I couldn't remember what I wrote. I think I'll just leave it as is as a tribute to the attention-demanding power of these thunderstorms we've been having.
I am struck by the fact that O'Donohue names his first chapter "The Mystery of Friendship." Mystery! There is something about my friendships that is beyond logical analysis. When two persons are very much alike, why am I friends with one and not the other? That extra something escapes me.
I don't even remember how or when I first met some of my friends. But there are some first meetings that I remember vividly. There was a bond so immediate that it seemed we had known each other a long time. The interesting way that O'Donohue puts it is "Friendship is always an act of recognition....suddenly there is the flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing....Each recognized the other as the one in whom their heart could be at home."
I feel safe enough to let the other get to know things about me that I am reluctant to risk with everybody. The author calls this intimacy "sacred." God is at the heart of it. "For love alone can awaken what is divine within you....When you learn to love and to let your self be loved, you come home to the hearth of your own spirit."
For me it is harder to let myself be loved than it is to love. It was life-altering for me when I discovered God's unearned love. Just to let God love me is an on-going project. Then my love for God and for a friend is more authentic.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Celtic Spirituality


For Lent I read John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara:A Book of Celtic Wisdom," a birthday gift. Anam Cara (spelled in a variety of ways) is Irish for "soul friend." I first heard about it in the 1970's when I was studying the history of the sacrament of reconciliation. The ancient Druids chose an Anam Cara, a wise confidant with whom to discuss their spiritual life. When the Irish became Christians they continued to have soul friends. When the practice of public penance faded away this Druid practice very gradually developed into private confession. This book and another that I am reading now talks about the value of having a soul friend.
O'Donohue's book as a whole is a worthwhile insight into Celtic spirituality. One of things I find most attractive about it is how unstructured it is. I am struck by how compatible the ancient Druid awareness of God in all of nature fits in so well with our Catholic sense of natural things as carriers of God. I wonder whether that's why Christianity was accepted so universally in Ireland.
I am having a hard time concentrating on this now with a thunderstorm raging outside, speaking of God in nature.
The picture is a plum tree I pass on my morning walk.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Spirit of Love


I remember in an old Bible history that I had in maybe 3rd grade God was pictured as an old man on a throne with clouds and angels around him. That was my idea of God for a long time. It seems to be the idea that today's atheists are attacking while today's religious thinkers have gone beyond that image.
I know that God is not up or down, that Absolute Being is not like a human being. I want to find ways to think of Divine Mystery that goes way beyond my childhood image. Ideas like air, light, love help, as long as I think about Air that knows and loves me or Radiance that knows and loves me. Just now a wind picked up and created rapidly changing ripples and shadows on the lake, Wind in which I recognize God who knows and love me.
An 2,000 year old way of talking about God might help me: Spirit. The Hebrew and Greek word for "spirit" means also wind and air and breath. In John 20:22 the Risen Jesus breathes on the disciples and says to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." I am also struck this year that when Jesus dies on the cross, Matthew's Greek says, "He yielded the spirit." John's Greek says "He handed over the spirit." Both use the Greek "the" instead of the Greek possessive for "his." This helps me think of the dying breath of Jesus releasing the Spirit into our world.
Coupling this traditional word "Spirit" with the Love that animated the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus might be a helpful way now for me to think of God. "Spirit of Love" moves me away from human images of God and gives me a non-material way of thinking of the Divine Mystery which knows and loves me.
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love's Victory


Mary Magdalene meets the Risen Jesus in this brilliant illustration from The Saint John's Bible. (With this series the publishers have given booklovers a great gift.)
In chapter 20 of the Gospel According to John the first two characters who come to Easter faith are brought to faith because Jesus loves them. Mary Magdalene has a special relationship with Jesus, not romantic love, but that of a devoted disciple. At the beginning of the story of the raising of Lazarus I am struck by the Gospel writer's making the point that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. I remember Mary's choosing to sit and listen to Jesus when, in Luke's Gospel, he comes to dinner in their home. In all four Gospels it is Mary Magdalene who first finds the tomb empty. The love between her and Jesus is so great that Jesus has only to speak her name and she recognizes him and believes.
One of the characters that Mary tells about the empty tomb is "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He is mentioned only a few times near the end of this Gospel. The love between him and Jesus is so profound that he doesn't have to see or hear Jesus to come to faith. He enters the empty tomb and "he saw and believed."
In this Gospel where almost everything has two or three meanings I'm sure that "the disciple whom Jesus loved" refers, also, to anyone today who is brought to faith by the all-embracing love of Jesus. With Jesus I am drawn into God who is nothing but extravagant, unspeakable Love.
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Friday, April 22, 2011

Extragavant Love


I spent from 12 to 3 praying over chapters 13, 14, 15, and 19 of John's Gospel, listening to Victoria's "Tenebrae" and Allegri's "Miserere," and gazing at this picture on a postcard. It's a detail of a powerful icon of Christ that is in St. Catherine's Monastery at Mount Sinai.
At the beginning of chapter 13 John says of Jesus, "Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." Love is the theme that runs through this long talk Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper and indeed John's whole account of the Passion and Death of Jesus. Jesus tells his followers then and now, "On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." Jesus goes to his death "so that the world may know that I love the Father." And he assures us, "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
I felt encircled by love, saturated with love, embraced by the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross, and pierced by the loving gaze of this icon of Jesus.
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sharing a Meal


I recently had a wonderful three hour dinner with some friends. Good conversation, food, and drink makes us one in a way that nothing else does.
Jesus had meals like this with his friends and with his disciples. He was creating a community. He didn't want this to stop when he was no longer with them. In his last dinner with them he asked them to keep on having dinners together in his memory. He made these dinners a symbol of his continuing presence in them and among them. Through these dinners he would continue to create the community of his followers.
Everyone was to be welcomed. No one was to be excluded. If anyone strayed, taking part in one of these holy dinners would be the way for them to be reconciled to the community. Through Word and Bread and Wine Jesus will make us one.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another Resurrection


I was pleasantly surprised in making today's entry on my blog to find the picture showed up. So I thought I would record here the picture of the Garden of Olives that I referred to in a recent entry.
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Rumors of Death


Mark Twain famously said, "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." In a week when Christians are reflecting on death and resurrection, I find myself thinking sadly of the death of parishes and wondering what lies ahead. We close parishes and a faith community is scattered. Do people find the same kind of support for their faith elsewhere? or do they join the current drift away from organized religion? or does something new arise?
I was heartened by a remarkable bit of family history in the current issue of "America." The 18th century philosopher Voltaire predicted, "One hundered years from my day there will not be a Bible on the earth except one that is looked upon by an antiquarian curiosity seeker." In 1881, just over 100 years after Voltaire's death, his great grandniece gave birth to a son, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a paleontologist and very influential theologian, who is much quoted in by religious people today. His notion of God as the "milieu" in which we live and breathe has had a profound influence on my life and on my relationship with God.
In the 1960's de Chardin's writings were so suspect that at a Catholic seminary book fair his books were sold under the table. Now he is a shining light to any spiritual searcher. One of my favorite quotes of his: "By virtue of creation and even more of the incarnation, there is nothing profane for those who know how to see."
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mount of Olives

There are still olive trees on part of the area where Jesus went with his disciples after the Last Supper. It is from this mount that we had a beautiful view of Jerusalem. I have a picture from there of an olive tree with an enormous trunk that looks like it's old enough to have sheltered Jesus and fed him. (I still cannot transfer my pictures onto this blog.) I found it deeply moving to be where Jesus did some heart-felt praying the night before he died.
Jesus knows that his enemies are closing in on him and that great suffering threatens. He asks the disciples to stay awake and watch with him, goes on alone, and prays,"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I will but what you will." The wording of this prayer is pretty much the same in Mark and Luke. Despite his reluctance and fear Jesus wants to line his will up with his Father's will, to want only what his Father wants. I feel sad when I imagine the loneliness Jesus must feel when he returns and finds that his disciples have fallen asleep.
He begs Peter to stay awake and goes off alone a second time to pray. This time it is only Matthew who gives words to the prayer, "My Father,if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." Those last four words, exactly the same in Matthew's version of the Lord's Prayer, reverse the words we say everytime we sin, "My will be done." Each time we pray the "Our Father" we make our own the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane and let Jesus help us reverse our sinful ways by sharing with us his will to want always what his Father wants.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I AM the Resurrection

In chapter 12 of his Gospel John tells the story of Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead. He tells it in a way that will help us to think about the Resurrection of Jesus as well as our own resurrecton from the dead.
Lazarus is raised back to the life that he had before he died. Jesus is raised into an altogether new life that his human body and soul had never experienced before. That new life is what resurrection of the body means for us.
This year I saw the mystery of Christmas as God moving through dimensions we cannot imagine to become one of us. Using the same metaphor of dimensions, I'm trying to come to a better understanding of the Resurrection. Perhaps Jesus, now with his human body and soul, moves back through those dimensions we cannot imagine into new life with his Father. The Risen Jesus becomes the portal, the Way, through to the divine dimension. As a result all humankind from beginning to end can move through the Risen Jesus into new life.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Darkness into Light

As I reflected on chapter 9 in John's Gospel I was more alert this year to the once-blind man's growth in understanding who Jesus is. He not only goes from blindness to sight, he goes from spiritual blindness to enlightenment. He first identifies Jesus simply as a man, then as a prophet, then as someone from God, and finally he says to Jesus, "I do believe, Lord," and he worships Jesus.
That development got me thinking of my own growth in understanding God and Jesus and religion. As a young teenager I saw religion mainly in terms of laws and regulations. If I obeyed them, Jesus would love me. As an older teen I saw religion mostly as the Church and the Pope. As I moved through my college years Jesus began to show me that religion had more to do with my relationship with him. As a young adult Jesus showed me that his love for me is gracious, unearned. This enlightenment was life-changing. I came to see that Jesus first loves me and I respond in love.
As I grew older Jesus helped me to understand that he lives in me always. He brought me to a deeper and deeper awareness that God is in me and in everyone and everything around me. This continues to blossom into a kind of mystic experience of God inside me and God outside of me as One.
Jesus has brought me from darkness into light. "I once was blind, but now I see." In Paul's letter to the Ephesians he says, "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." (5:8)
(I am frustrated by not being able to transfer my pictures onto this blog. Today I found a place online where I could check it out and found 22 other people with the same problem. The employee is looking into it.)