Today it is my great pleasure to host the blog tour for Chris Haw’s new book, From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love for Catholicism. We will have three posts today; a video intro that went up earlier, this excerpt, and a book review. If you want to win a book, please go to the Times Union to read the excerpt, and please leave a comment to have your name entered for a drawing.
I offered a reflection on John 13:21-38 at Taize Evening Prayer tonight. It was our last Taize prayer for Lent. These weeks have been a real gift. Plus tonight, my boss was able to attend and he proclaimed the Gospel for me; that was really special. The church may be a giant CF (sorry!) in some ways but it, like Rolheiser points out is also the dwelling place of saints. And those saints might be you or me.
Anyway our Evening Prayer is beautiful – the music is so sublime – you just melt into it. In fact, as I was preparing this post, I realized that is what I talked about and that is what the Taize chant invites you to do… Lean deeply into the heart of God.
The environment is lovely too and I am sorry that this photo does not do this scene justice. My friend Chris has such a gift for environment and I stand in awe of her talent. The glass bowl containing stones and light also has some sand in the top where we have a charcoal burning; incense is put on and it is gorgeous.
This was my typed text from last night. It was a bit shorter (although still too long- *sigh*) and I did not read it but spoke from notes, so it was a bit different. So it was not what you see here, but this is close enough and I can’t rewrite it!
Holy week – it was a tough week for Jesus. It is a tough week for us Catholics in the present moment. We need to pray and act, but that is not what I am here to talk about tonight. However, when preparing for this, I did come across this quote in reference to the current situation. It is from Ronald Rolheiser, Catholic Priest and author who writes in his book “The Holy Longing”:
“To be connected with the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers and hypocrites of every description.It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul of every time, country, race, and gender.To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest heroism of soul because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves.” – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing
I have been reading about Ingatian spirituality lately – the Spiritual exercises. One is encouraged to read Scripture and enter into each of the parts of the story. From where I sit, it is a lot more attractive to want to be the disciple that Jesus loved rather than to be Peter or Judas in today’s Gospel.
However, I can tell you that I don’t have to study the lines in order to be Peter or Judas however – I have a lot of practice.
In any event, we must enter into the story over and over and at some point, and meet God and ourselves in all of them.
We spent all that time in the desert and have returned to Jerusalem. It would seem a relief to be out of the dry and desiccated landscape and back into life. We leave behind the barren landscape and re-enter the lively city. However, Jerusalem is not just any city and to enter it is to know you will not leave it the same person you arrived.
Jesus gets this – the poor apostles, not so much. Have you listened to them? Jockeying for who gets to be the most important? Peter swearing that he would never deny Jesus – something we know he does in a few short hours. Judas thinking about his 30 pieces of silver and whatever else might have attracted him to betray the Lord.
Of course there is the one that Jesus loved, in the endearing image that associate with something that Fr Pat said a few years ago… At rest, with his head on Jesus’ chest. ……….. It is like our opening Taize song – Be still, Be still and know that I am God.
Just saying that scares me, I think I might rather be Peter seeking affirmation by promising to be a good boy or, Judas – transactional matters like being in charge of the money is a more antiseptic place. I might like that.
The dynamics of leaning into the heart of God and having God’s heart lean back into me seems much more frightening to me because it is to know and to be known in the most intimate way. God’s love envelops us.
And when that happens, not unlike Mary’s receptivity that we recently commemorated on the Annunciation, it requires openness, transparency and a true lack of defenses.
I’m sweating now, just at the thought of it. It does not mean absenting ourselves but rather simply being who we are, in all of our integrated wholeness. It makes me shudder, can I do that?
Can’t I just go back to managing my time and productivity? Must I really surrender into becoming the person that God has loved me into being? For me, like for Peter, jockeying in my own bumbly way to be number one comes very naturally – you can ask my boss, he’s here.
For Peter, that seemed to mean promising more than he could deliver because he was not promising out of his deep center and his integrity… he was promising out of his wounded ego. I don’t know about you, but I could write a long autobiography just for my wounded ego, let alone the rest of me.
And Judas, where was he coming from? We know that John tells us that when Judas took the morsel, he went out…. Night had fallen. The darkness had come.
Going hard on Judas is easy sport. While he was the lynch pin in the operation of getting Jesus arrested and crucified, we should always remember that if he did not do so, we might not be sitting here
I once heard a story that in some places that Judas Iscariot is revered as a saint because at the moment of his death he understood just what he had done wrong and turned back to God in a moment of true transformation and metanoia. Who knows? I do like the sound of it although it was jarring at first and may sound bad to many.
Whatever happened with Peter, with Judas, with me or with you – its all the same. We get caught in this dyad of good or bad, right or wrong and with Jesus, it might mean just leaning into his chest to hear his heart.
I’m sweating again.
Whatever it is, the darkness does fall – it had to. It had to fall in Jerusalem on that night so long ago and it has to happen to us too.
I’m not suggesting we go headlong into the darkness on purpose and succumb to it, but that we might accept that the darkness comes and that we must stay with Jesus. It is the only way to be transformed.
At least that is what I am told. And if I return to the quote that I opened with and if I think about myself, if I think about so many people I know, if I think about the church at large, it makes perfect sense.
Jesus was not really throwing people out – he was simply pretty clear about how to follow him. The Samaritan woman, tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, lepers, Judas and Peter himself – there are numerous characters who represent that totally not-in crowd that Our Savior was so often seen with.
And maybe that’s because he understood that you have to have a clear understanding of who you are and how God has made you. Then when the darkness falls… and it always does and more than once, it is about integrating the darkness and not just be in or out of it.
It is a kind metanoia that stretches our imaginations and our hearts to points we might not have wanted, but that we truly need. That stretch of mind, heart and body is what the cross is about.
Of course the way to do that is to lean headlong, deep into the heart of Jesus and just listen. There you will find Light and transformation – which is what Easter is about.
Night has fallen and you can go out into it or you can stay with the Lord and be transformed.
Please – lean in.
While I hardly ever write about it, not sure why, I could fill volumes with tales of Holy Week or La Semana Sancta, spent in the Andalusia region of southern Spain.
Do this once and it will change your life. Twice- there are not enough prayers of gratitude for it. For me anyway.
I was there for Holy Week 2001 and again in 2004.
Every city and town has processions that last all week – Sevilla having the most extravagant of them all. And part of the procession experience is to be immersed in hearing una saeta, sung from the wrought iron balcony of a Sevillan home. Las saetas have roots in Judaism and in Islam – in the complex and compelling history of that part of the world, where la convivencia once happened, albeit briefly.
I am short on time, so I will try to add to this later, but this morning, I leave you with a video of una saeta for La Esperanza Macarena in Sevilla.
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
(I found this image on the FB page of my friend and brother, Deacon Scott Dodge. I hope that he does not object to me using it here.)
January 2010 will go down as a time in my life when writing did not come easily to me. Part of it is time – or a lack of it. Part of it is… I don’t know. I wish I could explain it; I wish I could lean into it and keep writing. Not much comes.
Today however, I read this link from the Center for Action and Contemplation, home of my favorite Franciscan, Richard Rohr, OFM. It got me thinking about a lot of things and I will make some attempt to write about them here.
Rohr starts out with this (emphasis mine):
God fills in the gaps of human deficiency by a great act of mercy and compassion, and the word for that great act for St. Paul is “Christ.” For him Christ is the name for God’s great compassion, God’s great plan, God’s readiness to fill in the gaps of human sin, brokenness, poverty, and failure. It is not a begrudged mop-up exercise after the fact, but as John Duns Scotus taught us Franciscans, “Christ was the very first idea in the mind of God.” “All was created through him and for him …and he holds all things in unity and reconciles all within himself” (Colossians 1:16-17, 20). Christ is God’s master plan and blueprint for history! Salvation was the plan from the beginning, and not a mere response to our mistakes.
God fills in… I love this beginning because it points to a God that loves us and so generously cares for us. This is the opposite of a meaner view of God, put forth by so many and accepted by so many. In fact, accepted by people who are not even sure that God exists!
I think this also addresses a school of religious thought that puts the focus on us as humans. If we do all this heavy lifting, from prayer to whatever actions and devotions, it is as if we were cleaning up with the Cosmic Swiffer.
Make no mistake, I think that our actions matter – but not because we are changing God! No God is always changing us, when we allow such change.
So why do we make the Gospel into a cheap worthiness contest? After all, we have all fallen short of the glory (Romans 3:23, 5:12) and all are saved by mercy (Romans 11:32-36). Even Mary proclaims it of herself (four times!) in her “Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). Popes and priests, presidents and politicians are all saved “en Cristo” and by mercy and in our undeserved state. No exceptions.
God does not love us if we change. God loves us so that we can change. These are two very different scenarios, but most of Christian history has sadly chosen the first.
Not if we can change, but rather so we can change. This isn’t a cleanup operation, it is an invitation to become the very people that God has loved into being. This is an invitation to respond to the grace that is all around us.
How this propels me on a January morning and makes the embers of my writing fire begin to glow again.
(This is a post about a provocative piece of writing and not something written by an apologist for the Pope. Just reminding all before they begin to read… that’s all.)
Thanks to Facebook I have had the good fortune to “meet” Eric Stoltz, a Catholic deacon, (among other things) who lives in Los Angeles. He is one of the authors of the book Ascend, which I reviewed recently.
In any case, Eric wrote a really interesting post on what would happen if the premise of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons happened. If you have not read the book or seen the film, it is about a plot to “end” the Roman Catholic Church by destroying St. Peter’s and all the cardinals.
Oh, if it would be but that simple. Church is not a building or an institution but rather the assembly of all the people. As a result, it is not so easily undone.
Eric wisely points out:
“Dan Brown, for all his ridiculous notions and silly ecclesiology, may have given us something significant to ponder. If such a catastrophe as depicted in “Angels and Demons” were to occur, it would not be the end of Christianity, but rather a new era for the disciples of Jesus.”
A new era. It is bound to happen if we are even remotely eschatalogical in nature. And like all things of God, it is likely that whatever happens will be most unlikely and beyond our imagining.
You know – kind of like the enfleshment of the Spirit that many of us have been celebrating these days.
Go ahead and read what Eric has written by clicking here. Agree or not, you will find it thought provoking.
Zephaniah 3:14-18 Psalm-Isaiah 12:2-6 Philippians 4:4-7 Luke 3:10-18
It is Gaudete Sunday – a marker on the Advent path that calls us to really acknowledge joy. In our culture, the broader call of these weeks is to prepare for Christmas… by spinning ourselves dizzy with cooking, baking, shopping, socializing and more. However, the undercurrent of Advent is to prepare for the birth of Christ by focusing on the silent, patient, hopeful waiting of this season.
This year I have tried to practice a more quiet Advent, as I like to think I always want to, but rarely achieve. This Advent has me busy but I have cut back on my computer time, which has created some of the needed space.
It is very easy to make any religious practice into little more than a somber dirge, one that is not that hopeful really and certainly not joyful. I recall the bumper stickers that would announced “Jesus is coming… and he is ticked off.” (Ticked often was represented by any number of epithets.
I bring this up because Advent is as much about the return of Christ as it is the birth of Christ. And we love, as a culture, to think of God and the Jesus of the Second Coming as the heavenly disciplinarians.
In our first reading we are clearly invited to shout for joy and to exult because the Lord has removed all judgment against us. That does not sound like a ticked off God to me, but maybe I’m missing something?
Then we are told not to be discouraged – this is clear, do not be discouraged! We should not be discouraged because God is in our midst. In. Our. Midst.
God is coming, God is already here. No wonder we don’t want to understand this and we confuse ourselves with simplistic and non-productive thoughts.
The Psalm, from Isaiah further reminds us that we should not be afraid. When I think of my own fears, it is work to not be afraid. Yet this casting off of fear is the way to go… Isn’t it? Why is it so hard then? We should not be surprised that most of us so-called Christians reject the call of the Lord.
Read the Pauline epistle and once again – joy, have no anxiety, God is near. And we are reminded by Paul of the “peace that surpasses understanding.”
Why is this so hard to integrate into my life? I ask this question as I make my way, trying to muster some joy and gratitude, some hope and some recognition of the God that is already in our midst, forgiving, loving, reconciling.
Great – if that is the case I have to then give up my sinful ways. My sinful ways? Petty, self-centered fears and anxieties, divisions in relationship that mean I have to acknowledge that I might be wrong, small-minded and short-sighted thinking that drives me to close off and not open up. Who wants to let go of that?
Wishing for a better day is a lot easier than actually accepting a better day that is already here. Wishing means I don’t have to let go of anything. Accepting means I have to let go of everything. Everything.
I leave you with this poem which was on the front cover of my parish bulletin for this weekend. It is from John O’Donohue, who died too young last January. His words live on and call us to the Advent path of hope and joy.
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
~ John O’Donohue ~
The first Advent liturgy of my parish was celebrated at 4pm on Saturday. The church was especially packed. I processed in with the first candle for the Advent wreath and as I made my way back to my seat I noticed that there were so many people there. This caused me to add more hosts to the offertory paten after mass began, which was a good thing.
We have lovely music at my parish. The church is not that pretty, is is a big box of a thing, designed in the late 70′s and then renovated in the 80′s. I am told that the architect built car dealerships and banks; this does not surprise me and is likely true.
Anyway, the music was beautiful and the church was pretty full. I would guess that there were 700 people there, give or take.
Just before liturgy began, Father Pat gave me a vintage toy box and asked me to put it near his chair on the altar… I had a feeling that a good homily was ahead and I was right.
Father Pat began with a rhetorical question – “Do you believe that God is engaged in a cosmic battle for with evil?”
He went on to discuss that that kind of thinking sells a lot of movie tickets and book sales and fuels a lot of fear-based actions, but that it is not good theology and is certainly not Roman Catholic theology.
God is God. Period. God created everything, God is God, God is good, God created all.
Now we as humans are always engaged with some inner evil or the perception of such – this we all know.
He went over to the Kenner Give-A-Show box and pulled out a ViewMaster and asked if we were familiar with this. He asked if anyone had one and some kid must have raised his hand, I could not see from where I sat. He asked the kid if he was brave and the kid must have said yes, and next thing you know, Jack, aged 5, is up there on the altar too. He was adorable and precocious. They had a nice chat about what you could see on the ViewMaster!
Pat went on to tell us a story about his childhood. Christmas 1960, when he was 7. He and his sister Sharon woke up at 5am and slid down the stairs (if they walked, the stairs would squeak and give them away) in the dark of Christmas morning. They made their way to the tree, awash in gifts. Clothing gifts were wrapped, but toys were unwrapped. He and Sharon found the “Give A Show” and snuck it into the bathroom, but still couldn’t turn on the light as Grandmother’s room was right there.
With nothing but the light from the Troy, NY streetlamp, they opened the box and tried to figure out what this plastic thing was. He asked young Jack and Jack said it was a gun! It does look a little that way.
It came will film strips so Pat thought it was a ViewMaster thing; he and Sharon stared down the barrel trying to see the images, all 112 of them. It gave them a headache.
You see – unlike the viewmaster in which you stare into it, the Give-A-Show projected an image out. This was not discovered until Pat and Sharon both had bad headaches from trying to focus on Kenner images of Mighty Mouse! (am I the only person who thought of Andy Kaufman at the mention of Mighty Mouse?)
We tend to do things as they have always been done, said Fr. Pat. Like looking into the tube, rather than looking up at the ceiling to see what is projected. Narrow view and big view.
We often have to discover that they way we *thought* things worked are not that all.
And that the apocalyptic nature of the Cycle C readings that we begin today are not just gloom and doom, good and evil. Calamities and disasters are not always what they seem, especially when we consider the enormity of the impact of a God that is all good.
God calls us into being, God calls us to live.
Calamities and disasters can be viewed through a larger lens, projected onto the sky – they are scary (back to Fr. Pat) unless you consider the presence of the loving God who has called you forth and the loving God about to send his son into the world.
We cannot focus on the small lens of our own little fear, but rather must gaze upon the whole sense of time in ways that our own limited temporal and spatial understanding can’t quite grasp.
That is the transcendent. That is Advent. That is Christ. That is God. That is love.
What cosmic battle of good and evil can trump that?
Amen and amen and amen.
(and you wonder why I stay? can you not see how I am fed at this table, fed so bountifully and richly. sleeping on this homily helped me to heal some of the pain of yesterday’s rant and my late night FB ranty-status-update. that – and your companionship, your prayers and your wisdom. thank you.)
|The Second Coming|
|Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Oh my. Advent is here.
And it has been a shitty week for the Catholic Church. No – I don’t write that to elicit your sympathy. Nor do I write it inspire your outrage. Certainly I don’t write it for you to tell me that as Catholics go, I am pretty reasonable.
I do not feel reasonable today and not for the reasons you might think.
The center will not hold. What IS slouching towards Bethlehem waiting to be born? I am reminded not only of the words of this poem, but also of the lyrics to U2′s “Yawheh,” which remind us “always pain before the child is born.”
As for the shitty Roman Catholic church week, I must say that I *feel* like whatever I say will be misread or misinterpreted or considered defensive or whatever. That in no way defends the totally shitty (oh that word again – hate to use it but it so *works*) things that happened this week (or any other week) in the Roman Catholic Church.
As ever, I am tempted to not stay on the side of yay or nay. There is more yay than you might imagine when I think of the Church as the place I work and worship.
My “work” parish is in the process of helping a few hundred, give or take, families for the holidays. This means providing the means for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals along with gifts for Christmas. A good number of elderly and homebound people received Thanksgiving meals that were made up and delivered with great love.
My worship parish is in the midst of providing gifts for families in need and for the elderly without other resources. Thanksgiving was made at church for people who needed somewhere to go.
Probably the biggest thing going on at church however has been the “adoption” of a displaced family from Eritrea. They were living in a refugee camp in their own country for awhile and then got on a plane for the first time in their lives, flew halfway across the world on more than one plane and finally made it here. To say that they are in a strange land would be an understatement!
Their apartment has been furnished by people at my parish, they have been given food and other items and the biggest task is to see that they get visited regularly. They speak Tigrinya, a language that only one man in Albany speaks. He has helped out as he can.
I read about this priest in San Jose, California yesterday and was quite moved with the LGBT outreach he does at St. Julie Billiart church. Their parish motto is “We truly welcome Christ revealed in every person!” Amen to that!
And I would be truly remiss in not mentioning Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco – another special place.
Now the people who provide for those in need are not perfect and the church (locally and globally) that gives the setting for these provisions, welcomes and celebrations are not perfect. Is this actually news to anyone?
This was also the week that revealed some of the very, very worst child abuse cases, which took place in Ireland. I admit to feeling so sick and depressed about it that I felt physically ill.
And then there was this announcement which came out on November 18, from the Catholic Health Association… which is not all as simple as it looks and is less likely to be as stringently applied than the furor around it might imply.
So here we are, all slouching towards Bethlehem whether we know it or not and I can’t imagine that I am the only one wondering who or what will be born. Yes – Jesus, we know that he will be born, but what else?
I am ever amazed that the faith journey is one that has no destination; at least not on this earthly plane. It is all becoming and not what we became – that comes later.
This is not a convenient excuse to live a crappy life – something that seems to be ably done by the religious and the non-religious, by the politically right and the politically left, by the conservative and by the liberal. Living a crappy life is very much in the public domain and we all take a share in it.
In its own way that sounds like good eucharistic theology – it is in the public domain and we all potentially take a share in it. Our lives are all crappy at some basic level and then we do what we can do, within the confines of a church or belief system or not to become better people than we once were.
That is the problem with the more evangelically inspired thinking of individual salvation – what a load of crap that is, turning God into an American Idol style judge who is as cruel and capricious as Simon Colwell on a bad day.
Back to the road on which we slouch along on. Any God that would send his only son, himself really – as a baby is not likely to be an American Idol judge as I understand it. He sends himself as a baby born to a teenage single mother slouching towards Bethlehem on an ass with her not-always-so-sure betrothed, penniless, and at that moment, also homeless.
So here we are, starting out on that road, once again now that Advent is here. The church is shitty, people are shitty – and your point is? We know this, what is happening though? What is waiting to be born? I am not trying to be Pollyanna, I am however trying to be realistic and to not waste all my anger and energy on what I am against.
Today at sunset, Advent begins. The road to Bethlehem is untrod territory, the page before me is blank and my heart does not know what to do.
I do know what I will do- center holding or not, I continue that slouch and consider “always pain before the child is born.” However, like U2, “still I’m waiting for the dawn.”
I am going to post U2′s Yahweh here rather than video of Yeats reading his poem. The message of Yahweh is a bit more Advent inspired as I experience it.
What about you?
Yahweh – U2
(a special thank you to reader/lurker MR who knows who she is because we corresponded today. your note helped me write this. your silent presence here is a gift beyond measure. thank you.)