Friday, January 31, 2014
My shadow on the early morning beach.
Today is Thomas Merton's birthday. Sister Alida, my 7th and 8th grade teacher, gave me his autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain. It was over my head but I'm sure that it had something to do with my deciding to be a priest. That may be what she had in mind. Many years later when I began doing centering prayer, I found out that the name of the prayer had come from one of his writings. What he says in this letter to his brother captures some of what contemplation is about:
"Indeed we exist solely for this, to be the place God has chosen for his Presence. If once we began to recognize, humbly but truly, the real value of our own self, we would see that this value was the sign of God in our being, the signature of God upon our being....The message the contemplative offers you, then, brother, is not that you need to find your way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God; but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present to you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons."
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Early morning workers are just beginning to set up the beach chairs. They are always in very orderly rows. I was also impressed with how neat these umbrellas were wrapped.
The feast of the Presentation of Jesus, February 2, was the old end of the Christmas season. In his telling of the story Luke in 2:22-40 wants to make it clear that Jesus comes from a good Jewish family who live by strict obedience to the religious Law. Simeon comes on the scene, not because of the Law, but led by the Holy Spirit. He and Anna represent faithful Jews who were waiting for the Messiah and accept Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise. Simeon's beautiful prayer expressing this has been part of the official night prayer of the Church since the 5th century.
But Simeon then goes on to say that many of his fellow Jews will not accept Jesus. He uses the image of a sword that separates those who will accept Jesus from those who will not. He even indicates that being the physical mother of Jesus doesn't automatically put Mary on the right side. Like everyone she will still have to decide for or against. So do we.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Another warming view from my recent trip to the Caribbean.
Even though it's 8 degrees outside, the sun makes my south facing rooms about 80 degrees. Today I sat there in the sun, remembering the tropics and reading The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous 14th century spiritual classic. The author, in writing about contemplation, talks about God's drawing us into "the being of God himself." We transcend ourselves and become divine. God unites us with Godself in spirit, in love, and in oneness of desire. We are certainlynot equal to God. We don't deserve this, but God lovingly re-creates us, "making us, as it were, divine and one with God for time and eternity."
This passage reminded me of the thoughts I had as I sat on the beach (described in the entry before last.) God lives in all of us and loves all of us. We love God back with God's own love which makes us all ONE with God.
Many years ago the theme that our parish used for Advent was a quote from St. Athanasius: "God became human so that we might become divine."
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
"Shine your love on us each dawn
and gladden all our days.
Balance our past sorrows
with present joys
and let your servants, young and old,
see the splendor of your work.
Let your loveliness shine on us,
and bless the work we do,
bless the work of our hands."
"A light of revelation for the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel."
Monday, January 27, 2014
I'm sitting on the sand and looking around me. About ten yards away is a young couple. He has a bad limp, but every once in a while he limps down and begins very carefully to enter the water. Then he turns and lets himself fall in backwards. His wife never goes in the water, just reads.
I close my eyes and become aware of God living within me. I start to pray for the young man. I become aware of God living in him and in his wife. I become aware of God living in all these people sitting and lying and swimming and walking.
I think of God loving me and enabling me to love God with God's own love. I think of this Love happening in all these people on the beach, uniting all of us to one another. The image that comes up in my imagination is a sort of blob and the words that come into my head: It's all ONE.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Now that I am retired I find that I move easily into vacation mode. When I was working and went on vacation it would usually take me about two days to wind down and relax.
Since I was going by myself this year, I wanted to see if I could keep my half hermit lifestyle at a Caribbean beach. I went to the beach in the morning and again in the afternoon. Walking in the surf was like my long morning walk here at home, kind of a continuation of my earlier prayer. I let my mind wander. I would sometimes become completely absorbed in the sound and splash of the surf.
When I went into the warm water I felt carried away. I love being in water. I feel it's where I be-long. Our bodies are mostly water. Like God, it is around me and in me. I would stand in the relatively calm water up to my neck and just look at the beauty in all directions. The hills to the north slope down gently into each other and into the ocean. There are white houses on the slopes. Here the ocean view is not an awesome expanse of water. It is broken up by several small islands at some distance and near them high waves crashing against a long line of reefs. I turn and turn in the comfortable water and am lifted out of myself.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
The snow started before I woke up and has not stopped all day. When I went for my morning walk the snow plow had not been through and no vehicles had been on the road in our part of the neighborhood. I love walking through freshly fallen snow and kicking it up in front of me.
Four days ago I was walking in the surf, kicking the warm water up in front of me. This was a great beach for walking, more than a mile long. Breathtaking scenery. This picture is looking south. North there are some lovely hills. The view toward the sea is enhanced by several small islands and waves crashing on distant reefs.
My plan was to swim, walk the beach and lay in the sun. Plan was a success. A constant wind kept it from feeling too hot. Some parts of the beach were less crowded than others, so it was always possible to find some quiet space. It was impossible to be there without finding God in the beauty of it all.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
The Christmas cactus finally bloomed! I was away on vacation. I guess, being a cactus, it thrives on inattention. This plant belonged to a woman who died in the early 70's and her husband gave it to me. It has never been as glorious as it is right now.
Christmas and Epiphany help us to think about who Jesus is. The rest of the year we reflect on what he does. The liturgy for this 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time continues our Christmas and Epiphany reflection on who Jesus is. We use John's Gospel because of all the Gospels he stresses the mystery of God in human flesh.
The Gospel writer sees that Jesus provides unique and unprecedented access to God because Jesus shares in God's character and identity. It is as the Word-Made-Flesh that Jesus brings God fully to the world. Jesus doesn't simply speak God's words and do God's works; rather he does those things because he is God's Word and God's Work in the world. All his words and works, his whole life and his death and resurrection, make God known to the world. From the beginning to the end of his Gospel John bears witness to the gift of Love that God gives the world in the Word-Made-Flesh.
(Much of that last paragraph comes from the introduction to the Gospel according to John in the excellent The New Interpreters' Study Bible published by Abingdon.)
Friday, January 3, 2014
And bowing down the Christmas cactus worshipped Him. This very large cactus set these buds about three or four weeks ago. But they don't seem to want to open. The plant is in the sunniest window of the house, south facing. By now I would have expected the buds to open or fall off.
I displayed a white Christ Child, Mary, and Joseph beneath it. Even if the plant refuses to open up, at least it is bowing down over Jesus.
When I used Matthew 2: 1-12 for prayer last Sunday, my mind, or maybe my heart, became lost in the Magi's attitude before the baby. I was surprised since there are so many wondrous elements in this fabulous story. I found myself with these foreign stargazers bowing down, worshipping the Divine Child. God in the flesh of a baby. In chapter 1 Matthew had already identified the child as Emmanuel, God-With-Us.
It seems that the Greek verb that Matthew uses means more than bowed. I've seen it translated knelt, prostrated, lay face down. Before I pray in the morning I do some exercises. I start by lying face down on the floor. Each morning this week as I did that I prayed "And falling down they worshipped him."
I've tried during the week to analyze what I experienced last Sunday as I was caught up -- or brought down -- into the Magi's worship. The best I can say is that I was feeling far below the God-Child, so much less than this Baby who is the Holy One.