Thursday, December 29, 2011



"As for Mary, she treasured all these events and pondered them in her heart." (Lk.2:19) The Greek verb translated "pondered" means literally "to throw side by side." Mary in her heart tumbles together a visit to her by an angel, a birth of a boy, a manger, and the shepherds' story of angels in the night, to come to some understanding of it all. I think of a kind of small cylinder that I saw once that held rocks (agates?) from the ocean. It turned rapidly and tumbled them together until they gleamed with several brilliant colors.
This picture is from a new church near the site of the baptism of Jesus on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River. I like the vivid colors and the way many distinct events are pictured at the same time. Mary does seem to be pondering them all, tumbling them together. Joseph seems also to be pondering.
As I near the end of the year I want to set time aside to ponder the events of the past year, both personal and public. Maybe by tumbling them together in my heart I can come to some understanding, not brilliant perhaps, but helpful.
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Friday, December 23, 2011

Just Plain


A little girl
Had wandered in the night, and now within
The shadows of a broken stall, was waiting,
While the night winds and the breath of time
Were moving over her...
Starlight moving imperceptibly,
The drift of time. And then a moment's fall,
The last that we should know of loneliness.
A sigh, unheard within the dark, and then...
She...wrapped him up in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger
And then
She knelt and held him close against her heart,
And in the midnight, adoration fused
With human love, and was not separate...
This is God's chosen way with men,
To take men's way: and so the streets she walks
And all the roads, the shepherd and the shepherds'
Sheep, the winds, the firelight, Israel's hills,
Will find just this, no more, a woman plain
Upon the earth, and in her arms, a child.
(The above is from "A Woman Wrapped in Silence"
by John W. Lynch)
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Thursday, December 22, 2011



This is a petroglyph from Wyoming County in southwestern West Virginia. In the early 1980's the script was identified as Celtic Ogam. The petroglyph was dated from 500-800 A.D. It was translated into Old Irish and then into English. It reads: "At the time of sunrise a ray grazes the notch on the left side on Christmas Day. A Feast-day of the Church, the first season of the year. The season of the blessed advent of the Savior, Lord Christ. Behold, he is born of Mary, a woman."
Not far away in 1989 a skeleton was found buried in front of another petroglyph. The head was identified as of European origin (not native American.) The skeleton has been carbon dated to 710 A.D., plus or minus 40 years.
There are several other petroglyphs in the region. One reads: "A happy season is Christmas, a time of joy and goodwill to all people. A virgin was with child; God ordained her to conceive and be fruitful. Ah, behold a miracle! She gave birth to a son in a cave. The name of the cave was the Cave of Bethlehem. His foster-father gave him the name Jesus, the Christ, Alpha and Omega. Festive season of prayer."
In the Julian calendar, which was in use until the 16th century, December 25 was the winter solstice. Christians in the 4th century decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on the date of the solstice. The birthday of the Light of the World would coincide with the birthday of the Sun.
The above picture and the translations are from the March, 1983, issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine. The information about the skeleton is from the web site "Pre-historic West Virginia."
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cave of Bethlehem


The cave where Jesus was born is now underneath the Church of the Nativity. After winding through the church in an hour long line, we went down steep steps into a cave. Under an altar table is this star. Each person knelt down and looked through the hole in the middle of the star down onto the floor of a lower cave where Jesus was born. It was a very moving experience for me. A faith-deepening one.
Being in this cave helped me to realize vividly the humanity of Jesus. No matter how much I stress to myself that Jesus was 100% human as well as 100% divine, my imagination tends to dress the birth of Jesus in the glow of divinity. Even though there is much in the cave, like these hanging incense holders, that also stress divinity, the rock walls of the cave and its depth underground reminded me that a girl gave birth to a baby here and laid him in a manger intended to hold hay for the animals who shared this real place with them.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Heavenly Dimension


These mountains in southern Bavaria are heavenly.
I want to do some more thinking about a heavenly dimension. This is the sort of reflecting I used to do in my personal journal. I hope it is alright to do it here.
The night before last I had a dream in which I was in a parish hall arranging with the pastor to use the hall for some kind of ceremony. He told me I had to be finished exactly on time because someone else was having a meeting in the hall right after our ceremony. The other person spoke up and said, "That will be alright. Our group is meeting in a different dimension. We can be in the same place at the same time without seeing or hearing each other."
I am finding this kind of thinking a very helpful analogy for heaven.
For many years I have found thinking of heaven as "up" made God and the dead seem distant. It is certainly true, as a hymn I remember from childhood put it, "Out beyond the stretching of the farthest star, Thou art every reaching infinitely far." But the same hymn also sang of the closeness of God.
I remind myself that, like every religious reality, heaven is a mystery that we cannot completely conprehend. Comparison is the best we can do. The dream helps. Heaven is like another dimension that is in the same place as our earthly dimension, but we cannot see or hear what goes on there. At least, not usually. I wonder if something like centering prayer isn't a way of moving briefly into the heavenly dimension. That dimension exists in an eternal "now." When the prayer goes well, it feels like its twenty minutes is only a few.
So when I think about God becoming one of us, rather than think about God coming "down" into our world, I think of God moving through the "membrane" that separates the two dimensions and moving in to stay as Jesus Christ.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Word Became Flesh


The heart of the Annunciation story is the Incarnation, God becoming one of us. Where Matthew has the angel telling Joseph what has happened, Luke puts us in the moment. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God."
This is mystery beyond any human words or concepts. I try for analogy. I'm finding it helpful in recent months to think of the invisible, heavenly dimension completely intermingled with the our visible, earthly dimension. I think, then, of God moving through the "membrane" that separates invisible from visible and becoming a complete human being, while remaining completely God. God who is Love fully embraces our humanity. Human and Divine become One in Jesus.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Let it be with me as you say.


In the modern Church of the Annunciation in the Holy Land there are many representations of the Annunciation and of the Madonna and Child from a variety of countries. There are so many that they spill out in the courtyard around the church.
Luke tells the story in 1:26-38. I find much for meditation in this passage. I have always been told that Mary was very young, but I just read yesterday that in Roman law the minimum age of marriage for girls was 10 and Jewish practices were similar. Marriage usually took place before a girl reached 12 and a half. Mary, then, would have been about 12 or 13 when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to have a child who would be the Son of God. How prepared could she be to make a decison? I don't know of any representation of the Annunciation in art that pictures her that young. I am shocked nowadays when I hear about a culture in which girls are married that young.
As I prayed about this yesterday I was caught up short when I realized that I had left home and gone to the minor seminary when I was 14. Of course I was not making the earth shattering decision with which Mary was faced. I was even far from making a final decision to become a priest; but I did, at that young age, make a decision that put me on a path to where I am now. I found myself grateful for God's favor to the very young Mary and to me.
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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoice Always


Last night driving home in the dark I saw the full moon rising and reflecting in the Lake. This morning I got this picture of the full moon setting and reflecting in the Lake, the whole scene colored by the expectant dawn.
Gaudete Sunday indeed! The order to rejoice is not needed when nature makes me feel a deep down joy. In Isaiah 61 the prophet sings, "With all my heart I rejoice in the Lord; God is the joy of my soul." In Luke 1 when the angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth are going to have a child (who will be John the Baptist), the angel says "You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."
But in First Thessalonians St. Paul's order is "Rejoice always!" Always? Yes, always and all ways! No just when we are happy or hear good news. Joy is deeper than happiness, and sorrow. Paul doesn't expect me to pretend that I don't have problems nor to close my eyes to the weighty problems of church and world. Joy springs from an abiding confidence in God, so it can persist in the midst of the worst of times.
I suspect that's what Teilhard de Chardin meant when he said, "Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God." Wherever I see joy or whenever I feel joy, I know that God is present. Perhaps joy is the best way that I can call attention to the invisible Jesus within me and around me.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Haze


I'm finally able to get my pictures onto the blog. The one below is referred to in the entry below it. The picture above is this morning. We've had about four inches of snow that laid on the roofs and grass, not much on the roads. Heavy, wet, snow, sticking to all the trees and power lines. Some areas had power outages, but our neighborhood just had beauty. At 19 degrees, this was our coldest morning so far. The Lake and its haze testify to a sun that has not yet appeared.
In John 1:8 the author says that John the Baptist "was not the light but came to testify to the light." In verse 26 he tells his questioners, "There is one among you whom you do not recognize." Jesus has not yet appeared.
Jesus lives unseen in me and in my world. I am not the light but I am to testify to the light. Jesus uses me to reflect his presence, hazy though I may be.
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Advent Dawning

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