Also Sprach Zarathustra and Cultural Conundrums

On Saturday I was listening to NPR and heard this segment about the Richard Strauss Tone Poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra. I posted the opening scene to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey above; that certainly introduced this piece of music to the world in a grand way.

I was entirely captivated by the NPR segment and have since listened to it online – more than once. There are many reasons for this, but I will only dwell on a couple of things here.

When I heard this during the interview (transcript found here) between NRP’s Scott Simon and Marin Alsop, this struck me powerfully: (emphasis mine)

And so what happens is Zarathustra, when he’s 30 years old, he decides to go up into the mountains and contemplate life and all those good things. And he stays there for 10 years. But then he realizes that well, what good is all this knowledge and all this insight that I have if I don’t go down from my mountaintop and share it with everyone?

When that was stated on the radio, I could have driven off the road. That’s probably the primary reason I kept going back and listening and re-listening to the interview.

That is one of the best statements calling for community, wholeness, submission (in an entirely different way than we have come to understand that word, humility and sharing. I am very much reminded of Jesus in these words.

What do you think when you read that?

In any event, about the cultural conundrum that I mention?

Well, I am a bit obsessed with how power is worshiped and pursued and how our whole lives are supposed to be devoted to some kind of upward mobility.  We are encouraged to go up up up by gaining knowledge, money, power. Yet, wisdom would tell us that if going up is not coupled with a coming down, then the trip up is potentially wasted.

Do we use what we get on the mountain for ourselves or do we share it with others?

Wait! Sharing what we have earned with others? Isn’t that socialism? Sorry for the sarcasm, but it is such a common trope these days.

In any case, I continue to reveal myself further and further as obsessed and brooding nerd and more. No wonder Elizabeth Scalia is suggesting hot toddies and spa days for me and encouraging me to smile more.

But worry not – I feel no shortage of gratitude and joy. However, I do worry.

Come Holy Spirit Come, We Are Gathered in One Place on Facebook and Blogs

A Reflection on the readings for Pentecost.

A long time ago I heard a homily on Pentecost that has never left me… The priest said these words and whatever else he said has evaporated in my mind, but not the main point of his message.

“Easter makes me not afraid to die; Pentecost makes me not afraid to live.”

He spoke these words as my faith was being renewed and as I tentatively returned to the Catholic church. They really stuck and have lived on in my heart. I wish I could even remember his name, he was a visiting priest, but no, that is gone too.

I’ve spent a lot of time since then, about 20 years ago, trying not to be afraid to die or live, but have only made limited progress on both. This I know, the more deeply I enter into the life of faith and the more intimately that I become part of the unity of the Body that being Church calls us to, the more those words have helped me.

Are you on Facebook? So many people are – astounding numbers of people. It is quite remarkable to watch. A big part of my own ministerial life is lived online. There are many conversations about whether this is “good” or “bad.” Sadly, I hear more about the “bad” but that just returns me to the not being afraid part.

One of the great things about not being afraid to “live” online would be the many chances for evangelizing and being evangelized, the many opportunities for interaction in the name of Christ and a constant demand for the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide our ways.

“Living” online, especially in matters of faith,  came to mind as I read and prayed with the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.

We are not all physically “in one place together” but when we gather at a blog or participate in a Facebook conversation, we actually are together. If it is a faith post, then we are hopefully there in the name of Christ.  

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim

Well we are certainly all out there, speaking in what would seem “different tongues.”  In the past week alone, I have participated in several conversation threads on Facebook and each one has left me, and no doubt others, frustrated. We were all talking about somewhat the same thing… why couldn’t we understand each other?

What we hear described in that reading is the rush of the Holy Spirit, coming to enable each one to hear, no matter what the language. Once again, I am grateful for our Roman Catholic imperative to not interpret Scripture literally. This reading was not some early iteration of BabelFish or Google translate, but rather the Spirit coming to unify the many voices.

Oh please Holy Spirit, come to Facebook, please! Enlighten us, open us up, give us wisdom, give us charity, give understanding please!

For those of us who do profess our faith in Christ Jesus, we are called to literally “re-member” the Body of Christ. In doing so we must find ways to speak and be heard in One Voice. That is another gift of our Church, we are many members of One Body – not each parish unto itself, but part of a much larger liturgical whole.

Also it is our mission as Christians to unify (unify, not wrestle to the ground in dominating submission) God’s people as one in Christ. So this would really required that whole “understanding the many voices” part of Pentecost.

So as I return to my Facebook and blogging “mission” I will once again, God knows I start anew each day, to doing so taking the words of another Catholic with me. About a month ago, Catholic writer and blogger, Elizabeth Scalia (aka The Anchoress) was in Rome at the first ever Vatican Bloggers Meetup. She spoke about and wrote about the need to be present online “with clarity and charity.” 

Doing so is very difficult and I know that I struggle with it all the time. As I said, just in the past week alone, I was in several online discussions that turned intense, one into a skirmish of sorts. And one of them was with Elizabeth Scalia herself; we descend into these things more often than I care to admit and I am the instigator of sorts; going to her FB page or blog and saying something that is not necessarily in sync with her or her readers.  However I really want to understand what they are saying and I can only hope and pray that they understand me.

It has been a marginally successful effort, but we press on in faith. At least Elizabeth and I do!

Does this mean that we fold up our tents and go home? No. It means that we are called to what that same Elizabeth spoke of… interacting with clarity and charity. That is what we are called to as Catholics, Christians, all followers of Christ. And to do so means to wait in hope for, listen to and cooperate with the great Holy Spirit, whose arrival comes to us at Pentecost.

So do not be afraid to die, our hope is in resurrection. But do not be afraid to live, our hope is in the restoration of The Body of Christ.

Want to meet Jesus? Look into the face of pretty much everyone that annoys you, for starters anyway.

A reflection based on the readings for Monday, March 14, 2011.

Oh, the Gospel for today, from Matthew 25:31-45, is a treasure, isn’t it? This oft-quoted passage in particular, which is used to fuel many a social justice mission.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’

The words above are used to justify all manner of things, but I think that if we distill all the rhetoric away and see it for what it really says, we hear this… Thank you.

God says – thank you. What we also might hear are words justifying social action – which is appropriate. In any case, that is part of what we hear – thank you. You took care of one another and as a result you took care of me.

However, we can hear more, if we listen. Even if we are feeding all the poor people in the world (confession – I am *not* doing that) we still need to hear this Gospel and feel challenged by it.

If you were at mass at St. Edward’s this weekend, you heard Grayson Warren Brown offer his reflections after the Gospel. (Grayson is at St. Edward’s from Sunday through Tuesday for a parish mission/retreat, but I had to go out of town on Saturday, right after mass. I’m sorry to miss this event.)

In any event, Grayson spoke of the power of Christianity and how we are to care for one another. He spoke of us being ambassadors for Christ and what that meant. To care for one another.

So simple. So difficult. Right?

Then we hear this as today’s Gospel continues…

Then the righteous will answer him and say,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply,
‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

If we do not see Jesus in every face of sorrow and suffering, if we do not see Jesus in every face of despair, if we do not see Jesus in every face of every person who annoys, irritates and upsets us… If we do not see Jesus in the face of every person that we capriciously judge, then we do not see Jesus at all.

This kind of stinks because I am easily annoyed and highly judgmental. I see Jesus all over the place and then brush him off. I hate writing that but it is true.

Don’t we all?

Recently I got in a bit of a comment war over at Elizabeth Scalia’s blog, The Anchoress. Why do I let these petty things get stuck in my craw? I am so judgmental.

I know that Jesus is present in Elizabeth’s voice and in the voice of her commenters, but honestly, at the time that I am in it, I have the hardest time knowing the deep truth of that. And for them, Jesus is in me. Maybe they can see that more easily than I can in reverse, who knows.

So that’s simply one of my moments of not feeding Jesus and in fact, I in some way probably took food right off of his very plate.  However, we are ever invited to begin anew, each moment. Today I am reminded of the awesome power of that and how to care for the very least. It won’t be easy, but if we do this together in Christ’s name, maybe we can do it.