One of my ministries is a blog that I write for my parish. This piece is cross posted there. If you want to have a look, see The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor.
If you are at all like me, you may have thought that the idea of a “third eye” is a concept of new age thinking and practice. Not exactly!
When I was listening to Richard Rohr, OFM last week, it was interesting to learn that there is also a Catholic foundation for this way of “seeing.” I should not be surprised, given the rich, full corpus of Catholic thought and learning through the centuries. (I am always greatly saddened when others, Catholics often among them, think of Catholicism as some tightly bound ideology that is narrow and harsh. I do understand why some might think that however.)
Richard Rohr, during his talk for the Naked Now book tour gave some insight into the “third eye” way of seeing. Hugo of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor, both 12th century Franciscan mystics, expressed this way of prayer and being.
Richard of St. Victor wrote of the oculus carnis (eye of the senses), oculus rationis (eye of reason) and the oculus fidei (eye of faith). It is the eye of faith that is the “third eye.” This eye takes us beyond what we can physically see and experience, what we know through reason, to what is both beyond and within. This eye helps us to see and know God.
Beyond and within – note those words. If you read my Rohr inspired post from the other day you recall the need to leave duality at the door and enter into the ambiguity of both/and to experience God and the world at a deeper level. This reminds of a labrynth – a journey that might seem to go nowhere, yet goes everywhere.
Consider the Cross of Jesus Christ… Great suffering and great love in one nexus that changed (and continues to change) the world in ways that we could never imagine. Follow that with death followed by resurrection, which is where the Cross leads to and from. Perhaps you can see the numerous non-dualistic paths of the both/and way of seeing and how deeply Christian it is.
This is why we so desperately need the oculus fidei. The oculus carnis or the eye of the sense sees the resurrection. The oculus rationis or eye of reason denies this. It is only through the oculus fidei or eye of faith that we can begin to follow the Risen Christ.
If you give this any thought at all, it is the ultimate cognitive dissonance. And yet for many of us, it is the Truth and the Way. No wonder people think we are nuts! The only way for things to make sense at all to have them make no real sense at all. Which is of course ultimately the only thing that makes sense. Are you still with me here?
Richard Rohr, in his newest book further plumbs these depths of mystery and contemplation. During his talk, he elucidated the need to seek the place in between. It is no coincidence that Rohr runs the Center for Action and Contemplation, another place for the oculus fidei. In order to have action, we must feed it with contemplation… and vice-versa.
It must be noted that Rohr diverted from his talk to relay a story of giving an 8 day retreat at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton was a monk. Rohr kept mentioning Merton and clearly the monks seemed disinterested. Finally he asked the abbot why and he was informed that Merton had told his brother Benedictines that they were not contemplatives but rather introverts! And perhaps that is the bitter fruit of dualistic thought… One is an introvert or an activist, but where is one’s heart in the end? It seems it might be found in this place of both/and, lest we be lost in the either/or, which seems to go nowhere.
One of the points that Rohr made was that Jesus does not so much give us the answers, rather that Jesus is The Answer. He told us that in the Gospels, Jesus was asked 183 different questions…
And Jesus only answered 3 of them directly. (Three of them? How trinitarian, now that is interesting.)
Jesus is not an answer giver, as I said. He is The Answer.
Consider this, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Hmmm – do you see how we can’t simply see with the eye of the senses or of reason? It doesn’t make sense? A God that does not rumble from on high alone, but rather becomes one of us? It is truly mind-boggling if you just sit with that that thought.
I guess that God had really been working on this, rather cooperatively at that point – we were made in God’s image after all. That clearly did not do it; we could not accept that as humans it seems. So God made the conscious, active and loving choice to not simply make us in God’s image, but rather to fully be one of us. Rohr reminded us of the “scandal of the incarnation”, to use Irenaeus’ term for it.
I can only glimpse all of this, like a flash of light at the edge of my vision or perhaps a dream that I know I had, but yet can’t fully recall. I glimpse this with my oculus fidei. This is my journey and may be yours as well, as we know without understanding and how we understand without knowing.
It is a mystery indeed and yet all very clear. Isn’t it?
(Interested in the work of Richard Rohr? Click here to read and learn more about him and The Center for Action and Contemplation, to see where he might be giving a talk or workshop or to buy his books.)
I chronicled a good deal of the meet up portion of my NY trip the other day. That was a big part of of the journey. However, the trip took place because my friend Sue had mentioned that Richard Rohr would be speaking and asked if I wanted to go.
Last September Sue and I took a field trip to Fairfield University to hear Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea give the convocation talk. It was a great little day trip and hearing Mortensen was wonderful.
This year became an overnight and hopefully a tradition has been born.
This is the third time that I have heard/seen Rohr in person. The first two times were as follows… In January 2006 at the Politics and Spirituality event that I went to in DC and then again in August of 2007 when he gave a talk at the NY Open Center. This time the event was held at St. John’s University in Queens and took place at the St. Thomas More Church. Rohr was there to promote his newest book, The Naked Now.
It is a bit of a mystery to me that Rohr has not gotten himself thrown out of the RC church. He goes pretty far and wide and yet seems to have no real repercussion, which is great.
Rohr often speaks about the challenges of dualistic thinking, a topic near and dear to my heart.
Rather than the constant need to divide and objectify the world around us with various labels such as left/right, right/wrong, good/evil, republican/democrat. liberal/conservative, progressive/orthodox and so on. Rohr suggests that perhaps we should consider the invitation to live in the tension between the poles and enter into what we encounter there.
This is something easier said than done and Rohr acknowledges that. In his talk he remarked that this is much of the work of the “second half of life.” I think that he may be right about that; although there are many younger people who have inner wisdom, some of this comes later. It really does take time to get to this place.
In the figure of Jesus Christ, we really have this ultimate expression of non-dualism. Starting from the position that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine and that he was of both heaven and of earth, Rohr brought forth the more mysterious and contemplative elements of Christianity.
In his own words, the new book, The Naked Now, is the follow-up and companion piece to his landmark work (those are my words), Everything Belongs. I did not buy the new book yet, too much other reading right now, but I do look forward to it, as I love Everything Belongs.
As for prayer, Rohr really makes strong points about prayer not being something we do in any task-like fashion, but rather a journey that we undertake. So often prayer, due to what we learn in church, is a matter of doing certain things to please some hungry God. What we should seek is a union with a God who initiates all and loves us deeply, passionately and a God who does not see us in the divided ways we see ourselves.
I will say that after having experienced Richard Rohr three times that he is warm, wise and a generous and compelling speaker with something worth hearing!
“As long as we are unquestioning, we are part of the problem.”- Rosalie Bertelle, RSG
Frequently I find myself in some interesting conversations in the comment boxes of some of the faith blogs that I read.
Yesterday I read the words of one commenter regarding a post about obedience, teaching authority and women’s ordination who said:
There is no such thing as a “progressive” Catholic in good standing. The whole point of our religion is that it conserves the teachings of Christ given to us 2,000 years ago. To want to change or modernize the Church is to want the Church to cease to be the Church of Christ and change it into the Church of modern man.
Alrighty then! How sad it is to me to assume that the revelation of God’s Word in Jesus has come and gone. Is it just me, or isn’t it still unfolding?
Then there was this:
Forgive me if I am dense, but it seems to me the question of women’s ordination has been definitively addressed by Pope John Paul II, who taught authoritatively out that there is no authority in the Church to ordain women. To continue to advocate women’s (sic) ordination after that clarification is a stubborn refusal to accept the teaching of the church. Given that, why on earth is there any upset about removing from a teaching position a nun whose teaching is clearly contrary to that of the Church. Obedience, anyone? Assent of faith?
Once again, the definitive answer has been given, no more questions.
Well, maybe not exactly. I respect that that is the current answer, but I do not accept it as the answer for all time.
I actually do not think that women’s ordination is a one stop solution to all the problems of the church any more than I think that a married clergy is. What I do think however, is that if we can’t question and discuss such matters, we have a problem. So right now the discussion of this topic is off-limits. And some brave souls keep at it, even if it puts their participation in community at risk. I don’t know if they are prophets or not, but most prophets are resisted, reviled and rejected in my experience. To keep silencing people only encourages cowardice on one side and subversion on the other. True obedience demands neither!
This is not a recap of my evening with Richard Rohr, OFM, although I will touch on some of what he discusses.
One of the things that Rohr mentioned is that in the Gospels (not sure if he meant synoptic or all of them), Jesus was asked 183 questions.
And gave direct answers to only 3 of them.
What Rohr followed with was this quote:
“Jesus is not an answer-giver. He is THE answer.”
I would be inclined to agree, although I realize that is not the case for all who read this.
In the great rabbinical tradition, Jesus often answered questions with other questions. And I don’t think that he minded being questioned. In fact – I will posit that he encouraged it so that we might come to understand just who He is!
Yet we live in this bubble of authority-issues sometimes that drives me mad. Where is our inner authority? My own sense of inner authority developed over the past 20 years in direct proportion to the development of my Catholic faith. Now that seems counterintutive, but it is true.
Inner authority means asking questions sometimes. My faith also tells me that I won’t always like the answers I get. It is a process, dynamic and alive, that I am actively engaged in. Sometimes those tough answers just need to sit and I continue to work with them, questioning and surrendering and living in that in-between space of “both/and” rather than “either/or.” (This is the thrust of Rohr’s new book actually.)
Anyone who has ever been a teacher knows that the best students are the ones that ask questions. First of all, it might indicate that they are actually paying attention. Second of all, it means that they are using their critical thinking skills.
I put this post up to say that there are no answers without questions in my estimation. And the questions may be more important than the answers. For me and for others, Jesus is the answer but we must still ask the questions.
Spending time with those on the left and the right does give me a glimpse into the lack of questions from both sides at times. I spent plenty of time in that no-question of the self place and I still do, despite wanting to do otherwise.
I hope that we can all engage in some healthy and necessary self-examination of who we are as human beings, who we are as a society and for some of us, who we are as a community of faith. Questioning things is not just a matter of faith, but of life.
You see, the real risk with questions is that you might not always like what you hear in response. I know that has been very true for me and as a result, I struggle and wrestle with answers and Answers, truth and Truth, as I make my way along The Way.
The Truth, and I do purposefully use a big T for what my Truth is, is a big enough to withstand the questions and it actually demands those very questions.
I think that the questions are the point of demarkation for those who make an idol of Jesus and the Church and those who are truly followers.
And I am only partway along on that journey. It is the questions that are like little lamps, posted to guide me on my way.
I’ll close with some words of wisdom from Rainer Maria Rilke:
You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.- Rilke
The tone of this blog has been rather serious. *sigh* I know. What can I tell you?
And you would think that the only blogger I know is this one as he seems to be the only one I have linked to.
It is not on purpose, it is just how it is.
If you read these pages you likely know that I am a social networking fool. I have met about 30 bloggers now. You know, you think you are in it for the anonymity and then next thing you know, it is meet-up, meet-up, meet-up. Well – it is for me anyway.
I guess – sorry, going all Catholic-Eucharistic-Theology on you here, it is all about real presence for me. Social networking is great, but in the end it is how we connect as human beings. For me that is ultimately the Body Christ in action, as we love and serve one another.
Speaking of social networking and real presence, (shameless self promotion alert), I have written about Catholics and social networking and even got myself published… Really! Don’t believe me, click here to see my piece in The Evangelist, the newspaper of my diocese.
With that, I headed off to NYC (sorry to those of you with whom I want to meet, but have yet to This is me with my great friend Sue.
It was great to meet Greg in person. He is delightful – warm, funny, smart and passionate about his faith. Greg worked at CBS for many years and like me, has traded his media career in for a ministry career. Pay attention to his name, you may be seeing more it and not just because I link to him a lot.
See – we’re Catholic, not puritans, we drink! OK, Greg didn’t, he had to go back to work!
Then it was off to hear Richard Rohr. He was at his best. He is a great speaker, this is my third time hearing him. Rohr is right up my alley, speaking about the “both/and” rather than the “either/or.” Holding the tension of polarities is, I think, wisdom. It is what I try, and often fail to do. I keep trying. This is a big topic for Rohr.
I always get to chat with him too – he is a truly delightful man. Much of my re-entry to the RC church had to do with reading a lot of his work and he is with me to this day, TBTG.
Then it was back to the hotel in Manhattan and sleep. Up and out, we hopped over to the studios of Busted Halo to meet Mike Hayes. (That link will lead you to a great article about Mike. Mike also blogs at Googling God, which is also the name of his book.)
After founding Busted Halo 9 years ago, Mike is about to move on to Buffalo, NY. I had met Mike in the spring, when he came to Albany for a catechetical event. (I love the word catechetical, and am using it in honor of Catechetical Sunday. I should point out that in the tiny cute world of faith, Mike founded Busted Halo along with Brett Hoover, CSP. Brett knows our beloved Jane Redmont, proving that we are probably all less than six degrees apart!
We were also going to meet with Mike’s real life friend and my blog friend, Paul Snatchko.
What a delight that was! We had a great breakfast at a classic NYC coffee shop, The Flame. We talked and talked and talked.
My good friend Sue was a great sport about being dragged to all these meet ups and I think (I hope!) that she had a good time. It was refreshing for her to see that my blogging has led me to some great friendships and is very enriching to my faith. Sue is a big part of my local faith community here and a great friend to me.
After breakfast, Sue, Mike, Paul and I walked over to St. Paul’s and spent some time there.
There is an outstanding and I do mean OUTSTANDING art exhibit going on there if you are in the area. It is called God Doesn’t Like Ugly and it was amazing. No you don’t have to be Catholic to walk into the church and explore the art.
This was a great trip and I recommend all these bloggers to you. To those I have met, from every corner – I say thank you and to those I hope to meet, I say yes!
The image at the top of this page particularly struck me – Jesus walking with a Nazi, carrying his gun. It is called The Second Mile.
It makes me pretty uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. Then I try to look more deeply, that is hard too.
The word Nazi has been tossed around rather frivolously lately, at least in my opinion. There are many who compare the current presidential administration to Nazi’s. While I firmly believe that there is a lot of work to be done regarding health care reform, I do think that this is extreme.
Yet the word is oft used in regard to what is called the holocaust of abortion and now with some of the alleged elements of health care reform. Abortion is a holocaust… however, I very carefully choose the word alleged in regard to health care reform, because I have yet to find evidence that supports many of the emails that I receive from individuals and groups. And I have looked.
In my day-to-day life, I am considered a “liberal” person. Due to this, I often find myself in various situations in which people presume what I might believe. Some think that because I am a so-called liberal that I must be “pro-abortion.” Others, usually other “liberals” think that I am some kind of Catholic cool kid because I can’t really support the pro-life community in the Catholic church, at least as they perceive it.
Both groups are wrong about me.
My views regarding abortion, other than I do believe it is wrong, are not what we are discussing on this particular post. If you want to discuss that with me, you can get in touch with me via email or I will write about it soon enough.
What I do want to bring to the fore is this image… Jesus walking down the road with a Nazi, talking and carrying his belongings for him. What powerful imagery!
Jesus, always open to conversation which might lead to conversion, is speaking with someone most of us would consider the height of evil. Furthermore, Jesus then bears the load of this man, so that he can walk unencumbered.
This is nothing less than remarkable.
So if the abortion providers are Nazis, if the health care reformers are Nazis, if the tea bag people are Nazis, if President Obama himself is a Nazi… then would Jesus reject any one of these lost sheep?
I think not.
I was once a pretty lost sheep myself with all kinds of different beliefs. However, I was also a curious sheep and I found my way back to the sheepfold. It has not always been easy, but slowly, surely – through grace, love, community, exploration, faith and risk, I have come around. And what being “in the sheepfold” means for me and for another might be very different.
Assumptions are generally not helpful. I should know, I make a lot of them myself.
If Jesus in various forms of all those who have touched my life, walked down the road with me, a real apostate at times and still a bit sketchy even now by some standards, why would he not walk down the road with others?
He didn’t say, leave your belongings (beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings) behind. He actually took them off my back and walked with me. We talked, walked, talked, walked some more. Eventually things began to change. Slowly – oh so very slowly. He stayed with me and I began to change. Conversion. Metanoia. Really deep and transformational change. And it continues, thanks be to God.
God knows – Jesus has been so very patient with me, filled with mercy and compassion and so much patience. My eyes tear up even just thinking about this… I am grateful beyond words. Jesus is also very clear with me. This is why I continue to respond to His call.
It makes me look at the terrible tenor of so-called discourse in our country and I am feeling some genuine fear. Fear of how things might not change if we can’t get off of shouting and name-calling from all sides. Fear of how hearts and minds are hardened because some of us might sound more like Nazis rather than Christians. Fear of how we might reject others because they seem a certain way to us.
No, Jesus in my experience has never sounded like a Nazi or any other kind of dictatorial figure.
Oh Jesus is very clear about what we must do… We heard it this past Sunday… “Take up your Cross and follow me.”
That is clear, but I don’t think we are rejected if we don’t pick it up immediately because we are foolish and recalcitrant sheep without a clue. All of us.
I walk and I walk and I walk, thinking of all that I have become because he took my burdens, he took my sins and he walked with me for so long, walking with me still.
If Jesus can walk with the Nazi, converse with the Samaritan woman, heal the Syro-Phoenician woman, pick, heal on the Sabbath, eat with Zaccheus, consort with all the worst people of his time, I know I am in good company.
He came to us. We really might want to consider talking a walk with him, a very long walk, free from name calling and open to change.
** Please read the comments if you can. Commenter Cynthia posed a question and I responded. How we use language and how it is read are always a challenge, especially on topics such as this one.**
I stare at a huge pile of old journals that I fished out of an enormous plastic bin from the basement.
They are the Himalayas and I must cross them. At this point, I am getting acclimated to the altitude as I work my way up. Currently I have a headache from the thin atmosphere and sheer cliffs.
In the meantime, I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of both the right as well as the left regarding politics. There was a time when I was more strident. Trust me, I am no less passionate, but I keep thinking of a fortune I got from a cookie recently.
Now there would certainly seem to be a vast amount of really loud and bitter words from one side of the argument. However, there are no shortage of loud and bitter words from any side. I see this in the multiple corners of the blogworld and Facebook that I inhabit.
We as humans tend to see things in such broad strokes and in general, with a dualistic eye. I am as human as anyone in this way. That said, I don’t really want to be that way, it is truly a quest for me.
Yes, I may be nuts.
This does not mean that we should not call others out. I think it does mean that the tenor of the calling out is often pointless and much more about shouting than it is about listening, much more about staking one’s claim and telling the other that their claim is not valid. Maybe you think the other person’s point of view is invalid.
And likely they think the same of yours. Well, wherever does that get anyone? Remember, in the last post I claimed my idealism. Idealism often might call forth shouting and arguing, that is true. However, in the end, one “side” triumphs and the other side is in wait to pounce and take back what is “theirs.”
Do we not see that playing out all over the place right now?
Shouting it down forever doesn’t seem to be very effective. That is just my experience. I am reminded of a Hasidic story, a tale of Rabbi Zusya. That story is called The Lesson, by Doug Lipman. Here is a link to the story or you can read it here with my commentary. Or not read it at all, fee free!
When Reb Zusya was a young rabbi, a local merchant denounced him publicly. The Hasidic movement, the merchant said, was a dangerous innovation. Those who propounded it were fools at best and scoundrels at worst.
When his followers came to Reb Zusya with the news of this slander, Reb Zusya merely smiled. They pleaded, “Aren’t you going to counter his accusations?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
Some time later, one of Reb Zusya’s followers, known as Moishe Lieb, heard a commotion in the marketplace. A crowd had gathered around the merchant, who was spreading his opinion of Reb Zusya to any who would listen.
“He defiles the worship services! I saw him! He dances around, delays the prayers past their proper time, and insults our dignity!”
These affronts to his rabbi were too much for Moishe Lieb. He pushed his way to the center of the crowd. “I will teach you a lesson about Hasidism, you liar!”
The merchant pointed at Moishe Lieb and roared, “There is one of the fools now! See how he insults me!”
Enraged, Moishe Lieb spat at the merchant. The merchant lunged at Moishe Lieb. Had the crowd not restrained them, they would have come to blows.
I think you might see where things might be headed here…
A few days later, Reb Zusya approached Moishe Lieb. “Would you help me with something?”
“Of course, Rabbi. For you, anything.”
“Will you come with me on a three-day journey? Just the two of us.”
“Just me, Rabbi? I would be honored.”
I love the idea that they are going on a journey. As with all new understanding, we must travel to get there. Often that travel does not seem exotic, but it truly is, as we are traversing the peaks and valleys of the human heart and being.
Travel also means going places that are very wonderful, but then putting up with a lot to get there. This also means putting your own culture and expectations in place so that you might actually see, taste and touch something entirely new. Travel, when done this way, never leaves the traveler untouched, does it?
On the appointed morning, Reb Zusya led Moishe Lieb, on foot, out of the city. By the end of the day, the two of them had left the main road and were walking on a small, faint path through dry, uninhabited hills. Again and again, Reb Zusya had to tell Moishe Lieb, “Watch out – the path goes to the right here. No, it’s this way.”
As darkness fell, Reb Zusya pointed to a sheltering rock at the base of a large hill. “We’ll sleep under there.”
When it was still dark, Reb Zusya shook his companion awake. “Come, Reb Moishe.” The rabbi led him up the hill. When they reached the top and could see the narrow valley on the other side, Reb Zusya stopped and sat down in the path. He began staring intently into the valley before him. “Let’s look, Moishe,” he said.
Reb Moishe sat down next to him and stared, too. In the first light of day, he saw a parched valley below them, with two small fields of grain. Next to each field was a shelter built from rock. Down the center of the valley, a tiny creek trickled through the first farm and into the next. As the light broadened, he saw that, in contrast to the brown scrub around the fields, the two farms were lush with green.
For a long time, nothing happened. Then, just as the sun appeared in the sky, the door of the farther house opened. A man emerged, carrying a homemade, crude wooden bucket. He went to the tiny creek – scarcely more than a moist strip with a trickle of water down its center – and put the bucket where it could collect the few drops that ran into it. After many minutes, the man picked up the full bucket and began sprinkling the precious water on his field.
They watched the man water his field in this slow way until the sun was precisely overhead. Abruptly, the man looked up in the sky, stopped his work, and walked toward the farm which lay above his. As though on signal, a man came out of the near stone shelter and, without a word, embraced the first man – who silently gave him the bucket and returned to his stone hut.
For the rest of the day, Reb Zusya and Reb Moishe Lieb watched the second man patiently water his farm, just as the first man had. When the sun set, the upstream farmer walked to the downstream shelter, silently hugged the occupant, handed him back the bucket, and returned to his own shelter of stone.
At that, Reb Zusya stood up, turned around and began to walk the way they had come. Moishe Lieb followed him.
After a time, Moishe Lieb spoke. “Teacher, why did we come here?”
Reb Zusya said, “Sit down. I will tell you what I know of those two men.” He began to tell the story.
Now comes the time where shouting is pointless and only listening is the lamp to light the way. Reb Zusya, the teacher, begins to unpack the real story of what they eye can only see of two men in a valley.
The first time I came here (he said) I saw very much what you saw today – the two green fields in this arid place and the two men who watered them so patiently. Curious – and, besides, it was nightfall and I needed a place to sleep – I approached the first shelter. My host smiled and gestured me to enter. I soon discovered that he spoke no word of my language and I spoke no word of his. So, after a short time, I went to the shelter of the second farmer. To my amazement, he appeared to speak yet another language. He could not converse with me nor with his only neighbor.
Eventually, by way of signs and grunts, I learned their story. The “upstream” farmer, fleeing empty-handed from a war somewhere, had settled here alone. Even though he had no tools of any kind and he saw the aridity of this place, he hoped that the stream would moisten his field enough for him to grow a crop. He struggled to survive, scouring the surrounding area for berries and wild grains to eat and plant here. He carried water in his cupped hands from the trickling stream to his field.
At the end of the first winter, he was nearly starved and exhausted. One day, he saw another man enter this valley, carrying a large cloth sack over his shoulder. For a while the first man hid, fearing that he would be forced to return to the war he had deserted. When at last he emerged and spoke to the man, he learned that they spoke no common language. In spite of this, he soon realized that the other man wanted to settle here, too. The first man was about to drive him off when the other opened his cloth sack and took from it a wooden bucket. Overjoyed, the first man embraced the stranger as a friend and rescuer. Soon, by sharing the bucket, they were able to water both fields and live here in peace.
I left them, amazed at the simple, tranquil life they had carved from this dry valley.
A year or two later, I passed by here again. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the fields were brown, their crops were nearly dead, and a wall had been built between the two fields. When they saw me coming, they both came to greet me. But when each saw the other, they growled and shook their fists. Neither would approach me, lest he come too close to the other! I visited them one at a time in their shelters. By miming questions and watching how they acted out the answers, I was able to piece together what had happened since I came here last.
Somehow, they had quarreled over the bucket. Neither seemed able to describe the cause of their quarrel, but each seemed equally furious. Evidently, the “downstream” farmer had finally refused to share the bucket at all, leaving the upstream farmer with no way to gather the creek water. Then, in retaliation, the upstream farmer dug a ditch and diverted the water from the downstream field, into a pile of loose stones where neither could reach it. Now they were both unable to water their crops.
One night, determined on revenge, the upstream farmer sneaked into the other’s house to steal the bucket. The downstream farmer, however, had taken to wrapping his body around the bucket as he slept, and woke up in time to chase the empty-handed upstream farmer away. But the next day, he began dragging stones between their fields, forming a wall that neither could cross.
That was how I found them: slowly starving to death, neither able to use the water that still flowed slowly into their valley.
Such great bounty goes to waste here because they cannot agree. Now it would be oh-so-very-easy to say that whatever our own perspective is is the good, but that might not always be true. The point is how to negotiate and live with what is. Now that is hard, it requires openness, potential compromise and cooperation. What risk.
What could I do? I took the bottle of Sabbath wine from the sack I carried. I opened it, carried it to the first farmer’s shelter, and walked backward holding the wine out toward him, enticing him up the hill as you might lure a stray cat. I signaled him to stay there, then led the second farmer with the same promise of wine. They each stayed a considerable distance away from me, one above me on the hill and the other below. They showed no willingness to get too close to each other, yet they both appeared to understand that I meant to offer them each wine.
I took out a tin cup from my sack and filled it with wine. I extended it first toward one of them, then toward the other, offering the cup to them both. At last they understood that I meant for them to drink from the same cup. Suspiciously, they each approached. I brought their hands together, put the cup in their joined hands, and stood back to let them drink.
They continued to eye each other as they brought their mouths closer to the wine. Then one of them tried to pull the wine away. The other pulled back. In a short while, they had spilled the entire cup of wine over each other and the ground. They both looked at me imploringly.
I retrieved the cup, filled it again, and set it on the ground between them. This time they each managed to drink a mouthful before starting to tussle – and spilling the rest.
I filled the cup several times. At last, they had learned to drink from the same cup. By now, the wine was gone, but the two men remained facing each other on the path. The first one pointed at the wine stains on the other’s shirt and laughed. Then the second one pointed back. When the first one looked down and discovered similar stains on his shirt, they both laughed.
Dominance… someone must always dominate and have “their” way.
Rabbi Zusya looked at his companion. “That’s how I left them a year ago,” he said. “Laughing on the path. As you can see, they must have stopped trying to retaliate.”
Moishe Lieb nodded. “I see. You taught them without teaching them. Just like you taught me.”
“What did I teach you?”
Moishe Lieb sighed. “That I didn’t help you by ‘fighting over the bucket’ with the merchant.”
Reb Zusya put his arm around his companion. “I know you meant to help. You couldn’t bear to see me attacked.”
“Did I hurt your work?”
“Yes, a little. But maybe now you know other ways to help him learn?”
The next morning, the companions began the walk back home. Reb Zusya did not have to tell Moishe Lieb where to walk. By now, he knew the way.
How will we ever learn the way? I am convinced that it is through some sort of conversation and conversion. (Not always of the religious form!)
Back to the mountains, I have my own journey to under take. I hope you will join me, I am grateful to those who do.
After all, how could I do any of this alone? And why would I want to?
People have been calling me an idealist since I was a kid. And they always say it like it is a bad thing.
This has only served to encourage me!
At the end of September I will mark the 19th anniversary of my return to the Roman Catholic church. That means that I have finally passed the point where I have been back longer than I was gone. I was out for 18 years, now back 19 – I guess I’m in.
It is an entirely unlikely anniversary of an entirely unlikely event – or series of events. Add to that today I am working for the Catholic church, studying for an advanced degree at a Catholic institution of higher education and spend a good chunk of my time doing things at another Catholic church, where I worship – well, you know…unlikely.
To go back to the beginning, I was raised in a Catholic home. My father was Jewish but had left his own faith behind. My mother was a cradle Catholic. My mother was however a rather marginal Catholic. My father on the other hand became the driving force in Catholicism.
Looking back, I think my father loved the drama and the ritual, the transcendence, I think he longed for a lot of what the Church had to offer. He also wanted to belong to something. And he wanted it to all be as far as from who he was as possible – that was the Church.
My own Catholic childhood resembles little of the stereotypes. Sorry – no abusive or awful priests – although Father Sam was pretty grumpy, Father Julius was great; they were Stigmatine Fathers from Italy.
There were no ruler-bearing nuns with anger management issues in my past – these were wonderful women, Sisters of the Divine Compassion.
I began my religious education in the First grade; I went to public school. This was serious business, taught by the nuns. We met on Wednesdays and Sundays and I look back on a very thorough education.
Even way back then I was some kind of church nerd, I loved going to church. I would have my little St. Joseph’s Missal (which I still have) and a laminated card with prayers in Latin and in English. I always thought that et cum spirit tu tuo sounded like a phone number! We sat with our class and that meant the front pew on the left. I wore a little round white chapel veil until I was about 10 or so and was allowed to wear a mantilla, sometimes even a black one. I felt so very exotic and holy, all at once.
And I was never without my scapular and my rosary!
It all went very well, I loved going to church, I loved our little parish (sadly no longer extant), I loved Father Julius, I loved the nuns, I loved it all. We never missed church, which was good because back in those days it was believed that one missed mass was a mortal sin. If you died – bye bye heaven hello hell. OK, that was a bit scary, that and limbo. But I wasn’t walking around in terrified submission, I generally liked the whole business.
Everything was humming along fine. I think that I liked the stability of church and the transcendence, kind of like my dad did. I knew that I believed in and loved God very much and Jesus too, scary as he was all dead and on the cross… but yet he came back to life and I loved that part. It all made so much sense to me and gave me great comfort and so much joy.
On a less healthy side, it did feed my inner people pleaser and who better to please than Jesus!
The fact that my father was Jewish was never brought up. He was at church every week, he and my mom sat in the back. I found it odd that they did not receive communion. I knew that daddy couldn’t because he was Jewish and because he was divorced. These things were not discussed publicly. It was never clear to me why my mom did not receive communion, but it seemed prudent to not ask… Later I came to know it was because she married someone who was divorced.
In any case, there was such turmoil at home, I think I loved church for the things I said earlier and for more. I even thought about what it would like to be a nun – and this was back in the very old habit days!
So where and when did it all go wrong?
The year was 1970. Vatican II was working its way into our lives. We had folk mass sometimes. Honestly – I didn’t like it. I missed the “smells and bells” and I thought that the guitars were hokey.
My father died in October of that year. It was devastating. Even if things were all messed up at home, that was what I knew. My world was torn asunder in a huge way. I got a tremendous amount of comfort and consolation from knowing that daddy was with Jesus, Mary and the angels.
Some nun, an older one, well meaning as possible stopped me after what was still called “catechism class” and asked me how I was doing. I replied with honesty and told her what I just told you all – about daddy being with Jesus, Mary and the angels.
Her face fell. Maybe her mouth twitched a little. Then she said it… “Your father is not in Heaven! He can’t go there, he was a Jew!”
And in that moment, in my first real exercise of internal authority and individuation I knew that she was wrong.
There are some who would still argue with me about this, but I, even knowing all that I do know about my dad, still believe that he is there in heaven.
Something broke that day, I separated. We still went to church, I still went to catechism, but inside something changed.
Sister was wrong, the Church was wrong.
A few months later I made my confirmation and not long after I suggested to my mom that we stop going to church. In her depression over dad’s death she readily agreed, not one question asked.
And that was that.
It felt very liberating and a little scary, but it seemed the right thing to do. I still had my prayer books and my statues, I still had my rosary and I still believed in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and all the angels and saints. I just was not sure about belonging to the Church.
Now one thing would not undo it all, but I guess that a lot of stuff was going on and in this one way I could be me on my own terms.
Doing anything on my own terms was dizzyingly astounding and I kind of liked it. I mean – at this point I was what… all of 14?
Well that seemed that, and off I went. I did not think I would return again.
How wrong that was!
More to follow.
I wasn’t going to post anything, but it is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Mother of God. I found this video and realized that I have been to this church. My nephew lived in this town in Bavaria and I visited Amberg twice.
This church is high on a hill over Amberg, a lovely walled 15th century town. In addition to the baroque church (so not my thing, but whatever) the hilltop sports a very nice biergarten!
Anyway, enjoy the music and for those who share this love of Mary, know that this is a special day.