Friday, December 31, 2004

Friday's Cat

Julian, on New Year's Eve
Originally uploaded by jacsongs.

Here's our favorite feline, resting up in preparation for the evening's festivities. You see her curled in one of her favorite warm places.

7. Swan

Seven seas to whisper your name.
Seven dreams to bless you.

The southwest wind curls by your door,
having walked this warm winter desert
after its journey from Mistletoe Mountain.
I'm like that wind, only
I ride the asphalt plain;
and when I settle beside you,
then by your side I'll remain.

Seven swans swim on the lake
as the solstice moon wanes
into the halo of your eyes.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

6. Goose

Awoke at 1:30 a.m.
with tiny paws on my neck
and a mighty kitten purr
in my right ear.
Perhaps it was
the rich chocolate
savored so late in the evening.
Perhaps it was random dreams
dancing at pre-dawn New Year.
Still, your faithful friend
draws out the ledger
to share this sketch with you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

5. Gold Ring

Your golden hair
calls my name;
your soft silver voice
follows after.
Then there is your heart.

Ah! I wish I had the art
to paint this matter,
but that tender soul is no toy
caught by a rhymer's frame.
It's a dove of the air.

O bless that heart as it soars,
and the hearth wherein it dwells, forevermore.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

4. Calling Bird

You saw me first,
a strong voice
from the east.

Then I noticed you,
Venus rising
from the basement.

At old year's sunset,
we drove south
and shared a walk,

as we shared our tales.
Then we marvelled at the reflection
of the cross in the lake.

Monday, December 27, 2004

3. French Hen

While walking the middle path
between sky and land,
I met a lady who
would become a special friend.

Her cheeks are velvet,
her hands as warm as silk.
Her hair is bright & cloudy,
her voice is a watery brook.

Perhaps you think I lie or flatter,
but I would not stretch the truth.
She is all this and more —
mature, yet full of youth.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

2. Turtledove

Two arms to hold you.
Two hands to caress you
and stroke your hair at night.
Two years to learn you.
Two years to sing by your side.
Two years, be twelve, then more.

Two standing stones, at earth's center;
they define its magnetic resonance lines.
Love flows from east to west, south to north,
circles the quarters, then rounds back.
Let us walk between those stones
that two hearts may be doubly blessed.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

1. Partridge

One smile. One heart.
One tender kiss.
One step closer
to one warm embrace.

One Hope, One Faith, One New Life.
One everlasting Spirit.
One sky enwrapping us.
One voice in the wilderness crying.

Let us not forget the wealth of pears,
that soft fruit of love.
No, let us not forget
ere my true love comes to me.

Rosary Post-Mortem

I had a lovely chat with Pam late yesterday afternoon. I told her I had just posted the final entry in the "Rosary" series. She mentioned that she had been tempted to post a comment on the penultimate entry (4th Glorious Mystery): "Whew."

Honestly, that somewhat sums up how I feel, as well. Posting something everyday, five days a week, is quite an undertaking. In looking over it all, I can tell the results are uneven. No doubt, if I had spent the time honing and editing that Real Live Preacher (RLP) does on his entries, my series could have been a lot better. Thing is, even RLP doesn't challenge himself to write something EVERY SINGLE Day.

The whole thing began with an idea I had for a class I’ll offer at St. Paul’s in January. The idea is to pray the rosary, and invite people to relate the scenes in Jesus’ life to times in their own story. Well, I couldn’t very well ask people to do this without having tried it myself. Thus, this discipline of posting some kind of response to each of 20 events in the life of Jesus.

I hope most of my responses were personal. Sharing information about Padre, was very personal, and perhaps a bit risky, but it seemed "right". How could I ask others to share their personal stories if I am not willing to share stories both pleasant and unpleasant?

I know I occasionally went with an intellectual response; as I have mentioned, that’s a safe response for me.

By the third week, I realized I was trying to write these response in less than two hours each. Well, that’s only partly true. What I mean to say is that I would think about them, meditate on them, for the better part of a morning or a day. But the actual typing and construction of the thing would be fit into time available during the work day. Thirty minutes here, and hour or so there.

And when I thought of it that way, it seemed very much like writing a response for an essay test. Once I noticed that, I realized that the process was also helping me pin down what I believe right now.

I just took a few minutes to copy the text I've written over the past four weeks into a Word document. Trivia: It's 10,541 words, and 24 pages, long. As Pam said, "Whew!"

Who said something like "I won’t know what I believe until I write it"? That has certainly proved to be true for me.

Thanks to those who have hung in with me through these overtly religious entries. I want to especially thank Pam and Mother Susan, who were enthusiastic readers and offered encouragement as I engaged in this wrestling match.

Coming up – twelve days of poetry. You’ll catch on to the gag pretty quick, but it will be a fun challenge to see if I can come close to what I currently envision.

Think of it as my Christmas present to you.

Friday's Cat (belated)

Here's DJ, on her favorite perch. It's about 3:00 Christmas Eve afternoon. I've opened the blinds, so we could see the lady in natural light.

Incidentally, the pillow behind her (with the famous monkeys three) actually belongs to Elsie.

Friday, December 24, 2004

5th Glorious Mystery: Mary Received in Heaven

The main things I remember about Elaine are anger and insecurity.

Elaine and Padre married soon after they graduated from high school. When I asked him about it years later, Padre said they married because "That's what you do."

In other words, like many in the Bible belt (even today), they got married so they could have sex.

Padre made a reasonable living as a watch repairman, and it was enough for two to start a life on the edge of the Oklahoma City suburbs. But soon they had a child, and his salary wasn't enough. Elaine had to work.

This was the early 50s. Elaine was among the first working mothers. There was little support for it then. About the only "daycare" she had was her own mother.

That's one way to tell the story: what happens when a strong, intelligent woman gives up her indepence and becomes a mother. She could feel frustrated and helpless. And these feelings might be taken out on her first-born son.

Another way of telling the story is to quote the proverb "The parents eat sour grapes, the children grit their teeth." For I was once told that Elaine's mother did not show her the attention and affection later given to Elaine's children.

Either way you tell the story, it might help you understand, but it's no excuse. There is no excuse for a mother to hit her children.

Brother Dave has his stories, which are his stories alone to tell. His stories of abuse end when he was about nine, and old enough to defend himself.

Here's my story. I was still an infant, maybe 9 months old, and was fussy at breakfast. Elaine yelled, and hit me hard enough to give me a black eye.

Oddly, years later, she told me I was a sweet baby who never cried. And I think she honestly believed it.

My parents divorced when I was 6. My father was granted custody at a time that just wasn't done (~1962). Elaine was grnated visitation rights, and I saw her every other week until my early teens.

I remember little of those visits. I don't remember that she lost her temper. Probably was easier to put up with a kid from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon than it was 7/24. Sometimes, her apartments were rather squalid. But this is understandable, given that women were earning much less than men. I also remember a series of poorly chosen boyfriends, three of whom she married.

Her third husband was an alcoholic. I remember watching The Avengers in an ante-room during his AA meetings. Was that an appropriate place for a pre-teen to be?

This is where my concept of her insecurity comes up. It seems to me she sought validation through these men. Like many - including myself, on my worst days - she sought validation from outside herself.

The time would come when she would seek validation through her youngest son. Brother Dave had kept a healthy distance from her; I think he saw her less than three times from the time of our parents' divorce to her death. But, I wanted to be good. Society told me that a good son loves his mother. The church told me to honor my parents. So, I tried to connect with her.

But the time finally came when being a good son meant that I had to deny what I knew to be true. I had to act as if Elaine had been a good mother. But she had not been present physically. More importantly, she was so needy within herself, she had little to give her son. She had not been present emotionally - not when I was a child, not when I was visiting her. This was not the foundation of a healthy mother-son relationship.

By Junior High, I saw how other mothers were with their children. I could tell the difference. I could feel the sincere love they had for their children. Somehow, even then, I knew that wasn't present with my mother and I.

I did have some models of good mothers - Elaine's mother, Kathleen, was able to show Dave and I affection she had reportedly not been able to show her daughter. Padre's mother, Gran, also showered us with love. Later, various teachers would also show me the encouragement and faith in my talents that Elaine had not shown.

So, as I think of the Blessed Mother, I think of these women. I project their best qualities on the Heavenly Lady. She is the one who heals the wounds Elaine created. She is the one who comforts me when I feel low. She is the one who praises and directs and encourages. She is the one who sometimes challenges.

It is she who sits, Dante tells us, at the center of the Celestial Rose.

It is she who is my True Mother.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

4th Glorious Mystery: Death of the Blessed Mother

Luke 1:46-55, Rev. 12:1

Source: prayer card issued by the Franciscan University Press, © 1988.

Coincidentally, the reading from Luke is assigned for Thursday in the fourth week of Advent (IOW, today) in the Daily Lectionary. Most of the readings I have put at the head of most of these meditations come from a pamphlet, The Healing Rosary of our Mother of Perpetual Help Prayer Companion, edited by Fr. Michael Barrett, C.Ss.R (© 1977 Angelus Media Publications). Another resource has been Scriptural Rosary (© 1961, Chrisitianica Center).

I must note that I consider these last two Glorious Mystery with alternate names. This Mystery is more commonly called the Assumption of Mary. As I understand it, the tradition is that Mary was bodily assumed into Heaven just as Jesus, and Ezekiel before him, were. To me, this suggests two things.

First, all this emphasis on the physical body being assumed into heaven (which we see elsewhere in Revelation) indicates that Christianity respects the human body. Although one could cite Paul to the contrary, all this bodily assumption clearly shows that heaven regards the human body as worthy.

Secondly, I get the sense of how important Mary must have been to the early church. They would have given her the same respect we give Coretta King today, at the very least. What little we know of Mary, mostly from Luke, leads me to believe she was forceful and spiritual.

So – beyond being the Theotokos (Mother of God) – it’s easy to understand how attributes of various "pagan" goddesses were projected onto Mary as time went on. The early church also saw hints of her nature in the Song of Songs; for them, she was the Rose of Sharon. It is for this reason that roses were associated with her, and this connection explains the derivation of the name "rosary" for this series of prayers.

As I meditate on this, the penultimate scene in this cycle, I picture an Orthodox icon. At the center, on a raised bier, is Mary’s corpse. She is mostly wrapped, as in swaddling cloths, but one can still see her aged face. The disciples are gathered around behind her, in a semi-circle. At the center of this circle is the risen Christ. He is holding out his hands, as if accepting an offering. And offering over his hands is Mary’s soul, represented as a baby in a halo.

I have spoken of how the early church saw Mary, but how do I see her? Ultimately, I project onto Mary my notion of the perfect mother. I hope to explore this in more detail in the final installment in this series, tomorrow.

Idée d’jour

In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.
— Jose Narosky, writer

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

3rd Glorious Mystery: Gift of the Holy Spirit

There are two accounts of the early church receiving the Holy Spirit: the earliest recorded is likely to be Luke's (Acts 2:1-7) which describes the event as occuring at the Jewish festival of Pentecost, and having affected a large group of people, from all nations. John 20:21-22 describes the event as being more intimate, with the post-Resurrection Christ breathing on the Apostles.

When I pray the rosary, I tend to think of the Lucan account most often. In particular, I remember an icon which depicts the crowd with tongues of fire on their heads. I then extrapolate this image to include people in my faith community. I picture the Holy Tongue on the heads of those I like and those I don't like so well.

Then I think of the "Gifts of the Spirit" St. Paul speaks of; a precursory search found two:
  1. Here's the list from Romans 12:6-8 (NIV): Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Contributing to others, Leadership, and Showing Mercy.
  2. And here's the list from 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-11: Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miraculous Powers, Prophecy, Discernment of Gifts, Speaking in tongues, and Interpretation of tongues
Finally, I consider my own gifts: singing; speaking; compassion; and mercy. Perhaps even writing (he said with a wry self-defacing grin). Seems the life-long task is to be mindful of oneself. That is, to consider my giftedness honestly and humbly. To be sensitive to the possibility of gifts being newly discovered. To the nurturing of gifts new and newly discovered. To honestly consider whether I have applied my gifts properly and appropriately.

How am I doing so far?
Along similar lines, I recommend Reverend Mother's reflection on her gift of singing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

2nd Glorious Mystery: The Ascension

Acts 1:3-11

When the day is short and the night is long,
the vault of heaven shall kiss the bosom of earth,
the valleys shall kiss the tender clouds,
and the stars will caress the mountains.
Each root and branch will be called blessed,
every creature that crawls the earth or walks the sea,
shall know your Name.
Each beast from the mighty horse to the fearsome scorpion
will dance to the Name of the Lord.
Even this body, O Lord, you will cradle;
even the body you have broken you will not despise.
This piercéd heart you will renew,
these parched lips you will cleanse,
and they will sing your praise again.

Why do the people stand in wonder, O Lord?
Why do their mouths hang agape as they are crowned with holy fire?

O friends and dear companions,
why do you stand with mouth agape at the sky,
why do you stand like turkeys counting raindrops?
Don’t stand like rural posts,
you know the work to be done:
Proclaim this the acceptable day.
Heal the sick. Feed the hungry.
Console the destitute.
Proclaim this acceptable day
that heaven and earth are wed,
that all are living in the Lord’s house.
Proclaim that all are children of the most high
from each quarter and counter-quarter,
from every point of the Compass Rose.

Wake up, dear friends,
be amazed no more.
Rise up and do the work you are called to.
Rise up and walk the Way of Beauty and Holiness.

Idée d’jour

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.
— Mark Twain, author and humorist (1835-1910)

You know, Mark, I often wonder the same thing. What really scares me is the belief that, right now, it's most likely the latter.

Monday, December 20, 2004

1st Glorious Mystery: The Resurrection

Luke 24: 1-5

I dreamt Padre in eternity,
Walking as strong as he used to be.
The night before, I'd seen his face
On the cross in Jesus' place.
This is true: one season, I prayed the rosary and pictured the faces of family and friends in the roles of people in the various tableaux. For some reason, I felt moved to picture Padre's face as Jesus' on the cross. Having seen him in this role, it seemed appropriate to picture him as the Resurrected Jesus as well. And thus, I was able to see Padre as having ultimately overcome all the tragedy and heartache that had undone him.

Traditional catholic theology teaches that the ultimate sin is despair. If one has despaired of God's grace, how can it find them? How will they recognize it? This is one reason suicide is seen as a sin: it rejects God's gift of life, and despairs of God's saving grace. You can understand how troubling this might be for me, as I refer to the last ~20
years of Padre's life as "slow-motion suicide." Even if that phrase is inaccurate, it would be fair to say that Padre's melancholy was overcome by despair.

So, this vision of Padre rising from the dead was, for me, a healing vision. If it comforts me that Padre accepted heaven’s joy at the end, it harms no one.
We have less historical evidence for the Resurrection than the Crucifixion. The uncharitable would call the Gospel accounts propaganda, rather than history. The earliest surviving account of Jesus’ life, in Mark, makes no mention of a resurrection.

I am certain of one thing: something incredible happened. People allowed themselves to be martyred for a significant time following Jesus’ death. That is, immediately following his death (accepting the story of Stephen’s death as accurate), to the time of Constantine. People don’t martyr themselves for nothing.

The world has seen many good people cut down early in life since then. Many men and women have spoken truth to power since then, and have been killed as a result. No one has claimed that Martin Luther King, Jr. rose from the dead. So far as I know, no one has started an alternate religion based on the teachings of Ghandi.

So, in this way (at least) the story of Jesus is unique. People saw something unique in him, and tried to live as he taught. They were willing to die rather than reject his teaching. These are no small matters.

Idée d’jour

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.
— Robert Louis Stevenson, novelist, essayist, and poet (1850-1894)

This reminds me of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote I posted below.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Quote d’jour

When we hold a piece of bread,
if mindfulness is there, if the Holy Spirit is there,
we can eat the bread in a way
that will allow us to touch the whole cosmos deeply.
A piece of bread contains the sunshine.
That is not difficult to see.
Without sunshine, the piece of bread cannot be.
A piece of bread countains a cloud.
Without a cloud, the wheat cannot grow.
So when you eat the piece of bread,
you eat the cloud,
you eat the sunshine,
you eat the minerals,
time, space, everything.

Thich Nhat Hanh, from Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, pg 5 (Riverhead Books, New York, 1999)
Formatting is mine


Sam, you're it. Click the image for larger version. Otherwise, a fair copy is coming via post. You named the game.

Foggy Blues

I went walkin' walkin' walkin'
into the dreadnaught night
I went walkin' walkin'
And something wasn't right
Caught the bank's time & temp,
Copped a cuppa joe & left a quarter tip
Never knew love could come on like this
Got the blues, oh foggy blues

I went walkin' walkin' walkin'
Walking on for my dreams
I went walkin' walkin'
Love is more than it seems
Street lamps holdin' up lazy clouds
Looking for no complications
Lookin' for the right love right now
Got the blues, oh foggy blues

I went walkin' walkin' walkin'
It's the Lord of Love who speaks
I went walkin' walkin'
And I'm watching out for your heart
I love your opal eyes
This is your Lord who speaks
I love your denial
This is the Lord of Loss who speaks
Got the blues, oh foggy blues

I went walkin' walkin' walkin'
Into the slaughterhouse dark
I went walkin' walkin'
Hope as my Covenant Ark
Mistress Death my tempt me
Time may lead me on
Her eyes shine like eternity
She's my latest song
I got the blues, oh foggy blues

I went walkin' walkin' walkin'
Walking into my madness
I went walkin' walkin'
Where time brings no sadness
Here's my right hand, full of desire
Here's my left eye,
Burning like a heart of fire
Got the blues, oh foggy blues.
   Co-Written with Dr. Omed

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Honor of the Time

Half-moon morning,
bright pink eastern sky;
to the south, cool blue

It's January spring.
The sun slants kindly on
budding trees.

I'm a ghost, walking
the path I walk
every morning.

A ghost of honest memory
taking the well-worn path
that I know so well.

The honor of love
is lingering on the air,
a lava heartbeat.

I see a woman
in the distance, her muffler
wrapped about her neck.

She also sees me,
this thin morning ghost,
and she smiles.

When we meet on the
sidewalk, we do a small dance
in honor of the time.
For some reason, this poem commended itself to me recently. I really, really like that last stanza. And the especially nice thing about it is that it's essentially a true story.

Coincidentally, the Rev. Dr. Omed has posted a poem he wrote in my honor back in 1982. As he says, we've known each other a long time; at least since 1978, possibly as early as 1974 or ‘75.

In this poem, he mentions "Jason & the Argonauts". This is (I flatter myself) a special tip o’ the black hat to me, for I had written a song Dana loved, which had this refrain: "Jason and the Argonauts go sailing late tonight / I guess you'll have to find your love by candlelight."

If you're especially good, I may post the lyrics to the song after I've gotten past these Advent entries.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The 5th Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion

John 19:25-30

“Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine” — Patti Smith

The Crucifixion of Jesus ben Joseph may be seen in two ways: as historical event, or as myth. As a historical event, we have little record beyond the Biblical canon. So far as I know, Josephus is the only contemporary historian who refers to Jesus. If Roman records of the crucifixion of this itinerant preacher in a backwater of the Empire exist, I am not aware of them.

One thing seems clear in the canonical account: the execution of Jesus is a political act. Jesus' popularity threatens the religious authorities, to begin with. And although he has preached peace, there is always the chance he will incite a revolt. Or, more likely, some of his more radical followers might incite one. The Sanhedrin cannot risk that, for they know Rome will crush any revolt, and what little power the Sanhedrin has will be destroyed. As one leader is quoted in the Gospel of John, "it is better ... that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish" (Jn 11:49).

But there is a deeper reason for this execution. Jesus has had the audacity to speak truth to power. As such, he has fullfilled the role of a prophet. And, as he acknowledges, the people kill their prophets. In fact, this might be a good test of whether one is a true prophet: if he or she is still alive past the age of 30, odds are that one is no prophet.

By the way, the age of prophets did not end with Jesus. The 20th Century had its share: Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr, perhaps even Malcolm X. I'll be clear that an early death is not the sole qualification for prophet. But it's a good one. And one that disqualifies many who claim to be speaking in God's name today.

The traditional mythic explanation of the crucifixion is summed up in the phrase, "Jesus died for our sins." In this formulation, Jesus serves the function of the Sacrificial Lamb, taking our sins upon himself, and thus freeing us from the burden of sin. Because he is the Son of God, this sacrifice is for the whole world, for all time. As Paul writes, "Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (1 Tim 1:15).

This seems antiquated and barbaric. I don't want to contemplate a God who would behave this way. I don't even want to contemplate a God who would require any sort of sacrifice. I especially cannot abide the thought of a God who sends his only Son with the express purpose of suffering the worst form of torture and death that could be devised in the last century before the common era.

How can we worship a God we would turn into the police or child welfare if he lived down the street from us?

Perhaps the crucifixion is symbolic of a type of integration and transformation. In his novel The Last Temptation of Christ, Kazantzakis postulates that the last temptation came on the cross, and the temptation was to live as an ordinary man. The inference is that Jesus overcame all other temptations, and this last one was consumed on the cross.

I think of sin as anything that stands in the way of my becoming what Maslow called an "actualized person" and what Jung called "the individuated personality". It is not a matter of good and evil, or light and shadow, for these seeming contraries are but poles of one whole. It is a matter of looking at the Shadow, and considering what gifts it may offer. Not all gifts must be accepted, but all must be honestly considered and evaluated.

That which is not me must be transformed from a stumbling block to an aid. It must be, in this sense, crucified. This model in essence turns the traditional forumaltion on its head. Rather than Jesus dying for my sins, I symbolically participate as the crucified. I offer my whole self — light and shadow — to that radical transformation, that I may become as fully integrated as Jesus was.

Just as Jesus was transformed from the Hanged Man to the Savior Dancing.

Friday's Cat

She's in the bag!

In addition to our regular cat picture, I thought I'd share the result of our play on Tuesday evening:

Hopefully, you can just make out the scratches on the back of my left hand.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The 4th Sorrowful Mystery: Woeful Road

Jn 19:16-22; Mk 15:20-21

One of Padre's favorite songs was "Reverend Mr. Black", recorded by the Kingston Trio. The "Reverend Mr. Black" was a story song, where the major part of the narrative was spoken, and a sung chorus was used as a break between parts of the story. The chorus was drawn from an Appalachian spiritual:

You gotta walk that lonesome valley
You gotta walk it by yourself
Nobody here can walk it for you
You gotta walk it by yourself.
The Reverend is described as a man who appears to be "tough and mean," yet proves himself to be a man of peace. A lumberjack comes into the meeting house one day, cursing the church people up one aisle and down the other. He ends up at the front, and cusses right in the Rev. Black’s face. Then the lumberjack hits the preacher.

Rev. Mr. Black turns the other cheek to the lumberjack and lets himself be hit again. "Then with a voice as quiet as can be/he cut him down like a big oak tree when he said: ‘You gotta walk that lonesome valley....’"

Earlier in the song, this is a song the Reverend sings to himself. As he sings it to the lumberjack, I get the sense that it’s a form of sermon.

Curious Good News, that. When times get the hardest, you're going to be left on your own. It's a profoundly Existential statement.

The song has a sentimental twist at the end: "the Rev. Mr. Black was my old man."

I imagine Padre sometimes pictured himself in the role of the Rev. Mr. Black. Mr. Black is described as honorable, brave, and strong, all qualities Padre strove toward.

There is no doubt that Padre walked the Lonesome Valley from Wanda's death, in 1975 (at age 45), to his own, in 1992 (at 63). Although Brother Dave and I tried our best to help him, neither of us could transfuse him with the will to live. As I said earlier this week, my theory is that he suffered too many losses (job, health, and wife) within a relatively brief period of time. The stress of those multiple losses undid him.

I spoke earlier this week of the stages Robert Johnson believes men go through: childhood, youth, adult, and old age. Dr. Johnson says that the transition from one stage to the next is a crisis point.

Tradition holds that Jesus began his public ministry when he was 30, and was crucified around age 33. This age is normally the transition from youth to adult. As we have seen in reviewing his Passion this past week, the challenges he faces are several times worse than the average person experiences in a lifetime.

Padre was 44 when Wanda died, and he began to give up on life. Dr. Johnson sets the transition from adult to old age around 55. Dr. Johnson also cautions that trying to go into a stage too soon, or skipping a stage, can cause problems. It would seem that Padre was confronted with the issues of old age early, and this may be one explanation of why the crisis overwhelmed him.

Padre also sang "Lonesome Valley," and especially enjoyed Woody Guthrie’s version, which includes this verse:
There's a road that leads to glory
Thru a valley far away
Nobody else can walk it for you
They can only point the way
Jesus points one way: keep walking, no matter what. Walk with honor and integrity, not for praise, but because that’s who you are. I believe Padre’s life carries much the same lesson, for he also sought to walk with honor and integrity — even after melancholy consumed him.

I think my initial reading of that spiritual only tells part of the story. Psalm 23 tells us the Lord is our companion, even in the Valley of Death. We must take each step with our own muscles, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we are alone. Our path may unique, and we make our own choices, but we can call upon companions. They can’t take the action for us, or make choices on our behalf, but they can encourage and support us.

As a Christian, I claim Jesus as my companion in the Way.

Idée d’jour

Whenever 'A' attempts by law to impose his moral standards upon 'B', 'A' is most likely a scoundrel.
— H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

Think our Handsome Leader would get the hint if I sent this quote to him? No? I didn't think so, either.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Some Humor

It's been rather dour in these parts this week, so I thought I'd share a humorous story that is making the e-mail rounds. This particular version comes to me courtesy of Brother Dave. By the way, this story is rated PG-13.
Calling in sick to work makes me uncomfortable. No matter how legitimate my excuse, I always get the feeling that my boss thinks I'm lying. On one recent occasion, I had a valid reason but lied anyway, because the truth was just too darned humiliating. I simply mentioned that I had sustained a head injury, and hoped I would feel up to coming in the next day. By then, I reasoned, I could think up a doozey to explain the bandage on the top of my head. The accident occurred mainly because I had given in to my wife's wishes to adopt a cute little kitty. Initially, the new acquisition was no problem. Then one morning I was taking my shower when I hear my wife call out to me from the kitchen. "Honey, the garbage disposal is dead again, Please come reset it."

"You know where the button is," I protested through the shower door. "Reset it yourself." "But I'm scared of that thing" she persisted.

"What if it starts going and sucks me in or something?" There was a meaningful pause and then, "Please, it'll only take you a second."

Out I came, dripping wet and buck naked, hoping that my silent outraged nudity would make a statement about how I perceived her behavior as extremely cowardly. Sighing loudly, I squatted down and stuck my head under the sink to find the button. It is the last action I remember performing. It struck without warning, and without any respect to my circumstances. No, it wasn't the hexed disposal, drawing me into its gnashing metal teeth. It was our new kitten, who discovered the fascinating dangling objects hanging between my legs. She had been poised around the corner and stalked me as I reached under the sink. At the precise moment when I was most vulnerable, she leapt at the toys I unwittingly offered and snagged them with her needle-like claws. I lost all rational thought concerning the control of orderly bodily movements, blindly rising at a violent rate of speed, with the full weight of a kitten hanging from my masculine region. Wild animals are sometimes faced with the 'fight or flight' syndrome. Men, in this predicament, choose only the flight option. Do NOT try to fight a kitten hanging on for dear life! I was fleeing straight up into the air when the sink and cabinet bluntly and forcefully impeded my ascent. The impact knocked me out cold. When I awoke, my wife and the paramedics stood over me. Now there are not many things in life worse than finding oneself lying on the kitchen floor, buck naked, in front of a group of 'been-there done-that' paramedics trying to suppress their hysterical laughter - and not succeeding. A few days later I made it back to the office, where my colleagues tried to coax an explanation out of me about my head injury. I kept silent, claiming it was too painful to talk about. Which it was!

"What's the matter?" asked one smart alec. "Cat got your tongue?"

Brother Dave reminded me of our fabled male cat, Sam, who would hide under the bed then attack a person's ankles when that person was least expecting it.

DJ does not limit herself to the bedroom. She'll hide around corners, at the edge of the couch, anywhere — and then attack.

The Thorny Crown

John 19:2-7, 16-22

Padre suffered from severe headaches for at least the last third of his life. I don’t know the cause of his headaches. Since I suffer from severe sinus headaches, this seems a probable source for his as well.

I have found a sort of cocktail – pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen — which reduces the pain enough that I am functional. Padre took aspirin, which reportedly did not help very much. In fact, he eventually became an aspirin addict, which almost lead to an overdose — as I have previously described.

In the years following his retirement, he would often say that the pain was so bad that he was tempted to put a gun to his head. Whether this was an appropriate thing to say to your 19 year-old son is debatable. I suppose the combined pain of the headache and his despair was sufficient that he did not consider the impact of those words on me.

I have been known to make similar statements, in jest. Yes, I know it’s a curious sort of jest, given Padre’s history, but there you go. No doubt some deep dark Freudian stuff going on there.

My last severe headache occurred a little over a month ago. I had hints of it prior to going to church one Sunday, but thought I could get by without taking my "cocktail". As it turned out, I was very mistaken. It got worse during service; worse yet during Sunday School; and was barely able to concentrate well enough to get home safely. I spent the bulk of that day in bed with a cold compress on my forehead. Moral: take the cocktail at the first sign of pain.

It’s difficult to describe the pain, but imagine a heated metal band tightening around your head, at about the level of your temple. Now, imagine knitting needles boring into your brows. At a certain point, nausea joins the mix.

As bad as all that is, it’s nothing compared to a crown of thorns.
Most artists depict as a neat circle about the head. Others believe it was more of a thorny cap. Would have hurt either way. The thorns would not have been dainty rose thorns, which would be bad enough, but major brambles measuring a half-inch to an inch long. And these thorns would have been digging into Jesus’ head, drawing blood.

The Roman Empire did not have to worry about a prisoner abuse scandal. It’s fair to say the Roman soldiers behaved like a bunch of bullies. Being a sensitive child, I have some experience with bullies.
I’m no anthropologist, but I have come to see bullying as a perversion of the survival instinct. When the group senses a weak member, it attacks. Either the weak member becomes stronger or is destroyed; either way, the group (or species) benefits.

This makes a certain type of sense in the school yard, but doesn’t for adult groups, in which social norms discourage extreme violence. However, these norms do not apply to any people seen as outsiders or "less than" — enemies, prisoners, and foreigners.

There’s two ways to contemplate the events commemorated as "Sorrowful Mysteries". One is to see them as "things Jesus did for me". While this reflects traditional thinking, it’s not a view with which I’m comfortable (I hope to go into more detail by Friday). Another way is to honestly appraise the dark corners of your personality to see if you are capable of such acts.

I don’t want to believe that I could be among the bullying Roman soldiers. I want to believe I would not have shouted "Crucify Him!" with the rest of the crowd. But I have to admit either as a possibility.

I believe this to be a matter of constant diligence – what our Buddhist friends would call mindfulness – of my motives and the possible consequences of my actions. Another Buddhist principle speaks of Right Action; in this case, right action would seem to be an application of the Golden Rule:

As I would not want to be hurt, so I shall strive not to hurt others.

Idée d’jour

Knowing ignorance is strength; ignoring knowledge is sickness.
— Lao-Tzu, philosopher (6th century BCE)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Scourging

Mt 27:15-26; Mk 15:6-15
Yesterday, I talked quite a bit about the dragon. I said, with an appropriate degree of reluctance, that Padre had been destroyed by the dragon.

In my version of Padre’s story, the dragon represents a certain vision of the Great American Dream: a steady job, a wife, two kids, house in the ’burbs with a white picket fence. I know I’m doing some post-mortem mind-reading, but it seems to me that Padre expected “the system” to treat him with the same integrity that he strove for in his life. When his job of over a decade gave him an impossible choice between being laid off and retirement, he felt incredibly betrayed by both the system and the American Dream.

The figure of the dragon has gotten considerably bad press in the Western canon. Along with the serpent, the snake, and other reptiles, it is considered "evil". On the other hand, as you may know, the Orient considers dragons omens of good fortune.

This point is made especially well in one of my favorite books, St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail, by Edward Hays. George is an ordinary suburban male, in his mid 30s (one of those crisis points), and hears a voice sending him on a quest. Upon reflection, he chooses to start small, with a hermitage in his tool shed.

Then the dragon comes. George immediately takes this a sign that he’s on the right path (if you’re on a quest, you’re likely to meet a dragon — right?). The dragon quickly assures George that he’s a Chinese dragon, gives George a title worthy of a quest (Sent, or St., George), and offers direction for the quest. In fact, he invites George to climb on his back!

When St George climbs on the dragons back, he sees several wounds — some of which are glowing. He asks the dragon about them, and the dragon responds:
I have been slain a thousand times, but I have risen again. These old wounds are the source of my power and my insight. ... our greatest and worst enemies are not the monsters who roam the forest or even wicked witches or evil wizards. No, it is our scars, our wounds and old injuries that we must fear...
Life wounds us in a number of ways. We have only hints of how Jesus may have been wounded prior to his passion, but there is no denying the severity of wounds he received within 24 hours.

Both the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and the movie The Passion report 99 lashes (the latter in lovingly sadistic detail). I don’t find such a figure in the canon, so I suppose this number to be from non-canonical tradition. Odds are there were bits of sharp metal tied into the knots. Odds are the man lost an incredible amount of blood.

I think Jesus had choices during every step of his via dolorosa. At this point, I think his choice might have been to give up the ghost and die. He didn’t.

Although our wounds are generally less severe than sharp metal ripping flesh, we have the same choice. We can allow the wound to become our total experience of reality, or we can keep walking.

We have the choice, like the dragon in the story, to find insight and strength in our wounds. For example, one scar teaches me compassion for others. This same scar makes me painfully aware of how easy it is to judge others by mere physical appearance. The scar of Padre’s betrayal has made me suspicious of the American Dream. Other scars have taught me other valuable lessons.

The dragon in Hays’ story speaks to a notion of the Wounded Healer. This phrase was coined by Henri Nouwen, and it means that we minister to each other through our woundedness. Through our wounds, we may heal.

What do your scars teach you?

Idée d’jour

The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.
— Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

Wise words to ponder as the time for Iraq's election approaches.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Of the Rosary

The third Sunday of Advent, which was yesterday, is often dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In fact, at the Cathedral, we joined with the Hispanic mission to celebrate the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. So, it seems a good time to discuss how I came to the rosary.

But first, I must apologize to anyone who took offense at the phrase which I used last Sunday, "Mary-worshipping Papist", as Sam did. I was simply seeking the worst stereotype that fundamentalist Christians might have associated with the rosary. It was meant like "Commie-loving tree-hugging Democrat". You know, an Archie Bunkerism.

Growing up in Oklahoma, I did not know many Roman Catholics. In fact, my introduction to the denomination may have been the movie "Sound of Music". I found something about the ritual, and the surety of faith (as reflected in pre-1970 cinema) attractive. The Roman Catholics had something mysterious I was not finding in the Methodist Church.

Of course, the nuns had rosaries looped around their rope girdles. It's likely that I actually saw a character pray a bit of the rosary in a movie. So, I understood that the rosary had something to do with being Catholic.

In high school, I met Julian, who was the first self-identified Roman Catholic I knew. He had a slightly off-kilter sense of humor, was absolutely accepting of me, and was willing to talk about his tradition without trying to convert. When I started asking about the rosary, in our first year of college, he gave me some pamplets on the fundamentals of the Roman Catholic faith, which included instructions on how to pray the rosary.

I may have already seen a similar form in the St. Augustine Prayer Book, which had been published by Anglo-Catholics (a.k.a. "High Church" Episcopalians) in the 1920s. But the books Julian gave me presented an in-depth view

By the way, those books were Handbook for Today's Catholic, a Redemptorist Pastoral Publication(1978); and Ten Series of Meditations on the Mysteries of the Rosary by Rev. John Ferraro (1981).

By way of giving the process a fair shake, I started praying the rosary. And thinking about what the prayers meant, what the mysteries meant, to me.

The primary prayer of the Rosary is the Hail Mary:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
I've long thought of this in two parts (as presented here): the first half is Biblical, repeating words spoken, respectively, by Gabriel and Mary's cousin Elizabeth. The second half is more problematic, as it calls Mary both Holy and Mother of God. This may be the statement that gives people the mistaken belief that Roman Catholics are praying to Mary.

Both statements are sorts of titles. Saying Mary is holy is another way of saying "blessed"; since she's called blessed in the Bible, we shouldn't have a problem calling her Holy. And, in as much as Jesus was fully God and fully human (as I keep repeating), Mary was mother to God. The rest of the statement asks Mary to pray for us, just as you might ask a friend to pray for you.
I have more to say about Mary as an archetype. Students of religion and anthropology are aware that the early church assigned qualities of Roman and Greek goddesses (et al) to Mary. Mary was also identified with the Hagia Sophia spoken of in the Song of Songs (and elsewhere). Clearly, in a male-dominated tradition, common people ached for a feminine balance, and the ideal of Mary came to serve that purpose.

It is in this tradition that I have come to use Mary as a vehicle to realize the feminine aspect of God.
This week I will be meditating on the Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and The Crucifixion. These will be hard scenes for me to talk about. Many have preconceived notions about what they mean, and it's challenging to write about the incidents divorced from those preconceived notions.

I'll repeat that it's not my intention to preach or convert. I'm wrestling with these questions. For me, the challenge is to address these questions on an emotional level as well as an intellectual level. For me, the heady stuff is safe. Writing things about scenes in my life that these events remind me of, is harder. And scarier.

Pray for us, blessed Lady.

In the Garden

Luke 22:39-53
We each have our stories. We have stories of our parents, and their parents, that we tell ourselves and our children. Sometimes as we tell these stories we might notice they are similar to classic stories of old.

The Jungian analyst Robert Johnson, in his book He , speaks of the stages of a man's life, using the Arthurian legend of Parsifal as a framework. According to Dr. Johnson, there are four stages to a man's life: youth, adult, middle age, old age. Each stage is marked by a crisis: for example, a youth may try to become a knight (or adult) too soon; or an adult may be devoured by the dragon.

In my version of my father's story, he is devoured by the dragon.

This may seem shocking, or harsh, for Padre was one of the strongest men I've known. He truly was a man who could be counted on; he was unfailingly helpful, and had a discerning “listening ear.” I flatter myself when I believe I have inherited any of these traits from him.

He went to work for Western Electric (now Lucent Technologies) in the early 1960s. He was there for over a decade – a good chunk of his life. Like many people of his generation, he believed his years of loyal service would be rewarded by loyalty from the company.

By the late 60s or early 70s, he rose to the level of supervisor – sort of middle-management. In 1972 or 73, things were getting tight for Western Electric stock holders (partly due to the break up of Bell), and management had to cut costs. Employees like Padre were faced with a choice: lay off or early retirement. Padre chose early retirement, feeling extremely betrayed.

About a year later the growth appeared on his nose. Wanda (his wife, my stepmother) strongly encouraged him to see a doctor, but he refused. He wasn't seeking another job, he wasn't doing much of anything, which also worried her. Late in the summer of '75, she moved out. At the same time, I chose to go to college.

Padre and Wanda were separated, but I've learned there was some talk of reconciliation. Sadly, in November 1975, Wanda died of a heart attack..

Padre's crisis came in his early 40s, the transition to middle age, at which time one confronts the dragon. The dragon hit Padre with everything it could. It took a lot to break him and cause him to give up on his life. But that's what he did. As Brother Dave has said, Padre's remaining 20 years was spent in a form of slow-motion suicide.
In the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries, we see Jesus at a crisis point. A number of non-canonical accounts have seen the Agony in the Garden as an additional temptation. As the passage from Luke makes clear, Jesus does ask whether his death is really necessary. “Let this cup pass,” he prays, and according to some sources he asks as many as three times.

Jesus is fully human, as Martin Luther said, and doesn't wish to die any more than any other human.

The dragon had already thrown a lot at Jesus. It's possible Jesus had a pretty good idea how bad it would get – not just death, but an excruciating death in slow-motion.

He had the choice to call down the heavenly host. He had the choice to run away. It was probably too late to say “Sorry guys, just kidding”, but he could have tried that too. Instead, he faced the dragon.

The dragon did not prevail.

Padre walks with me to this day. I carry his weapons of integrity, honesty, and compassion as I face the little dragons of my life.

For today, the dragon will not defeat me or catch me in its jaws.

Idée d’jour

Those who insist on the dignity of their office show they have not deserved it.
— Baltasar Gracian, philosopher and writer (1601-1658)

Friday, December 10, 2004

Friday's Cat

Lady by lamplight

I am a guilt-ridden human companion today.

When I came home yesterday evening, I didn't see DJ anywhere. Not so much as a mew. I began to have some pretty dire visions when it struck me: "I wonder if she's in the closet?"

I keep my winter and dress coats in a hall closet. DJ invariably runs in whenever I open the door. Sometimes, I close the door in hopes that being cooped up in the closet will deter her from running in.

You guessed it: I had forgotten to let her out of the closet yesterday morning. She was on the top shelf, patiently waiting for me to come home.

For what it's worth, I did my best to make it up to her. A kitty treat. Playing with her most of the evening. Petting her when she'd let me.

She has the run of the house today.

The First Eucharist

Mk 14:17-26
I believe I was a junior in high school when I realized that Jesus was Jewish. He attended the synagogue, read the Torah and the Prophets (he was especially fond of Isaiah), he was buried according to Jewish custom.

I was baptized as in infant at Christ Methodist Church, and attended until I was 8 or 9. I don't suppose the Methodist church of the early 60s was anti-Semitic. It's just that the topic never came up.

We started attending the Episcopal church in ~1966. Fr. Connolly was rector of St. John's, OKC, and was one of the first I know of who hosted a celebration of the Seder at Passover. I have no doubt this planted the seed for my realization that Jesus was Jewish.

What is here called "The First Eucharist" is more often known as "The Last Supper". For the disciples, it was another Jewish Passover.

Passover is the traditional commemoration of the Jews' delivery from Egypt, when the Angel of Death "passed over" them. The people of Israel also passed over into the Promised Land. Toward the end of the meal, Jesus announces the betrayal which will lead to his "passing over" from life to death.

We've skipped some action to get from the feeding of the five thousand to this point. Jesus has not exactly gone out of his way to endear himself to the religious leaders. He calls them a pit of vipers and white-washed tombs. He reminds them that, however hard they try to follow the Law, they still fall short of perfection. He has the audacity to tell them the Law was made for humans, rather than the other way around.

Up to this point, he'd just been a preaching annoyance. But when he attacked the commerce in the Temple, he was meddling.

We know the rest of the story.

Yesterday, I talked about how Jesus' ministry seemed to be spreading further and further out. Now, we seem to have shrunk down to thirteen guys in a room. But have we?

As the "First Eucharist," this simple meal shares with communions in a variety of churches for over two thousand years. It's not a meal that will feed the body, as the loaves and fishes did. It's a meal that offers a deeper feeding. A meal to feed the soul.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Five Thousand Fed

Jn 6:2-14

I pass the church every day on my way to work: City Church. It sits on the north-east corner of 10th and Robinson. The building is three stories tall, and looks like an old Masonic temple, with its dome. Every day, I see the homeless huddled on its west-facing, lee-ward, side.

Well, this huge block of a building does make a great windbreak. It also casts a healthy shadow in the winter. It's where I would go.

Until recently, I've driven on the south side of the building. Recent construction along my route has forced me to drive along that west side.

Where I see those people lined up to receive coffee and donuts.

I have my suspicions about the theology of this place. On the south side of 10th, across the street from the church, is a little office building with the sign "City Church, Inc." So, I'm thinking it's a non-demoninational church; one that preaches hell fire and damnation. I have been known to pass my silent judgement on this church.

The people who come on Sunday are not homeless. They have nice cars and nice clothes.

Yet some of them come once or twice during the working week to feed these people who have gathered in the shadow of their church.

They may have every other bit of the gospel 180° wrong. But they got at least this one bit right: "I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat."

I've thought about this story all day. These Living Mysteries begin in the desert, where Jesus is forced to confront temptations within himself. At the wedding feast, he ministers to a few people. As he travels, he heals more people. Now, he feeds these five thousand (not counting women and children). It seems his blessings are spreading further and further out, like ripples.

Christianity is often accused of being "Pie in the sky in the sweet by and by", and there's validity in the criticism. We can get all twisted up about some fairly impractical heady stuff. Are you pre-rapture or post-rapture? Are these the end times? And so on.

But here, taking care of people's basic needs is recognized. No, more: it is sanctified. Jesus doesn't promise to be with us when we argue about fine points of theology. He promises to be with us when we pray as a community. He promises to be with us when we visit the prisoner. He promises to be with us when we soothe the dying.

Indeed, he tells us that we see his face when we hand that cup of joe to the homeless.

Idée d’jour

When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
— Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Healing Ministry

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Mt 4:23-24 (NRSV) (emphasis added)
I've come pretty close to giving myself writer's block trying to write something about this, the third Living Mystery. Everything I come up with seems stale:
  • Folk don't much believe in miracles anymore
  • Well, some do, some don't.
  • How 'bout them miracles of modern medicine, which some would say are ways God works through humans?
  • Blah blah blah.
Bottom line: either you believe in miracles, or you don't. If you don't, the stories of Jesus' healing miracles are myth or propoganda. If you do believe in miracles, then you have no question about Jesus' healing ministry.

I would suppose that those who believe in miracles have experienced one in their lives, or within their immediate circle. That is to say, some kind of healing has taken place for which there is no medical or scientific explanation.

We're not talking about the face of Mary in a potato chip here. We're talking about the withered hand restored, or a non-surgical cure for epilepsy. A person who is inclined not to believe in miracles may have some way to discount such an event; but I suppose it to be feasible that some event might happen that would cause one to question his/her reliance on scientific logic to explain the world.

"Do you believe in miracles?" I'm open to them. "Have you experienced a miracle?" Days like this, I suppose my continued existence to be a miracle. I've made a lot of mis-steps in my life, yet here I am, doing better than I was even five years ago. I've gone under the surgeon's knife more times than I care to recall, and I've lived to tell the tale.

It wasn't a flash of light. It wasn't some male authority figure slapping my forehead with an open palm. If I want to call it a miracle, it doesn't hurt you. If you want to call it luck, or chance, or self-determination, I won't argue the point.

I suppose I'm just one of those people who are inclined to believe in miracles.

Idée d’jour

If you torture data sufficiently, it will confess to almost anything.
— Fred Menger, chemistry professor (1937- )

Seems to me this is the complement to the quote attributed to Mark Twain about "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics."

Orpheus Returns

When Orpheus returned from underground
all he could sing was shadows,
and his eyes were full of ghosts.

When Orpheus returned from shadows
the feast was in tatters
and his lyre had come unstrung.

When Orpheus returned, we had
already forgotten Persephone, Demeter,
and were panting for his song.

When Orpheus returned from the depths
his fingers were broken
and all he could sing was shadows.
Card mailed to Sam Nov. 20, 2004
This poem was inspired by the picture on its front, of James Dean coming up from a theater door. The picture is a high-contrast black-and-white. You see Dean in high relief. You see the shadow of the stairs he's walking up. You see a bright "Exit" sign behind him.

For some reason, seeing this image of James Dean coming, as it were, from the underground led me to think of the myth of Orpheus. I'll confess that, like most, what little I know of this myth comes by way of Ovid. Some more details were filled in by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman series (see "Orpheus" in the Fables and Reflections collection), which influence this present work.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Marriage Feast at Cana

John 2:1-11
How do you know if your time is come?

In this story, Jesus says his time has not come yet. Mary does not listen to him, and tells the stewards to do whatever he tells them to.

This puts Jesus in a corner. I'd like to think Jesus was a pinch annoyed with his mother (per Martin Luther’s belief that Jesus was fully human and fully devine). Hard to guess the motivation of asking the waiters to fill those jugs with water. Buying time? Inspiration? Foreknowledge?

I won't make too much of the fact that John is the only gospel writer who tells this story. But, for John this is the first sign that Jesus was the Promised One. Did Jesus recognize it as a sign of his calling?

Although I have not written about it recently, I have not dropped the question of my own call to ministry. I strongly believe the Pauline doctrine of the "eternal priesthood of all believers"; my question is whether I am called to ordained ministry. Additionally, I wonder what form my ministry should take.

I recognize that part of my current ministry is in music. Only a relatively small part of this takes place in a church (by choice), but it is a ministry nonetheless. One way I chose to act on this part of my ministry was to volunteer to be part of the choir for the Watonga mission trip. As it turned out, I was called upon to lead the choir at the last minute.

For the past several months, we’ve been planning the "Faith Sharing Event" for Diocesan Convention. At each planning meeting, I had expected someone else to chair the meeting. Each time, I was called upon to chair the meeting. It was not until the final "de-briefing meeting" that I went prepared to chair, "just in case."

Upon reflection, both these occasions suggest a ministry which involves leadership. The point being that I did not think of it as ministry at the time. Something needed to be done, and I did it. It’s only in hindsight, and with others’ reflections, that I have made the connection.

It’s entirely possible this was true for John; he may have been amazed at the miracle when it happened, but only considered it a sign of Jesus’ ministry years later.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Tempted in the Desert

I gave in to temptation this weekend. I went Christmas shopping. I had a relatively short list — co-workers, and a friend — and I got started early enough to miss the worst of the crowd. Additionally, I shopped in unique shops. Still hit holiday shopping traffic though. That was sufficiently stressful all by itself.

You know, one stressor seems to be getting the right present for someone. Since most of my co-workers are at best casual acquaintances, I didn't worry about that. Gifts exchanged at work clearly fall under the "it's the thought that counts" rule. Of the five gifts I've bought, I'm pretty sure three fit the recipient.

There's other temptations in the world, stronger temptations that the world of commerce can offer.

Others have talked about the nature of the temptations the Tempter offered Jesus in the desert. The first is physical — to satisfy a very real physical hunger. The second is power. The third is an appeal to ego — prove you are who you say you are.

I am equally susceptible to those temptations. It's easy for me to use food to fill emotional emptiness. It's easy to grasp power as a way of self-validation. It's easy to give in to an ego hungry for the attention of others.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

We would be foolish to suppose the temptations ended with that scene in the desert. Two recent movies (Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion) suggest two other times in Jesus' ministry when he might have been tempted. I have no doubt there were others, which were not recorded, and have not been speculated upon.

Consider, if you will, the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth. Of these, my greatest challenges are pride and sloth (with lust making a close third). Not once have these temptations come to me by way of some cartoon-style devil with horns and red cape. Temptation is much more subtle than that. It’s always attractive, and oft-times seems quite the bargain (see Augustine’s entry for 12/05b).

Augustine’s story could be a little parable. Temptations will eventually wound us in some way. Most of us won’t recognize it as quickly as Augustine did. Some of chose the pleasure of the temptation over the pain it causes us. And we’re never done with temptation; as with the story in the desert, when one seems conquered, a new one arises. Or, the old one takes on an alternate form. Always, temptation waits for the opportune time.

Luke 4:1-13

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Joyful Mysteries

The titles of the entries for the past week, with the exception of the obligatory "Friday's Cat" and "Idée d’jour", come from the Roman Catholic rosary. In brief, one meditates on these scenes from Jesus' life while one recites a cycle of prayers (primarily the "Hail Mary"). This is part of my Advent discipline. Seeing as there are five scenes in each set of mysteries, this should involve my writing something at least five days a week. Good practice, at the least.

I'm aware that the entries did not always reflect the theme of the scene in question. Sometimes contrast can lead one in interesting directions.

My goal here is not to preach. I'm wrestling with these things. You just get to watch the wrestling match. With any luck, you'll derive something from the struggle as well.

This coming week, I will be reflecting on the "Luminous Mysteries", also called the "Living Mysteries". So far as I know, these are a relatively recent addition to the cycle.

My source for this set of mysteries is dated 1996. My other sources for the rosary are dated much earlier than that (1920ish, 1964, and 1978) and those sources do not include the "Living Mysteries".

Why is this significant?

See, what I'll call the original set of mysteries, Joyous, Sorrowful, and Glorious, skipped a portion of Jesus' life. The Joyous Mysteries, as we have seen, cover the period from the Annunciation to Jesus' early boyhood. The Sorrowful Mysteries reflect on His passion and death. The Glorious Mysteries reflect on His resurrection, and the birth of the early church. This sequence leaves out Jesus' ministry, which is at least as important as his death and resurrection.

Though I know a great deal about the history of the "traditional" rosary, I don't know anything about the addition of this set of mysteries. But, they seem to fit. That is to say, they feel "right."

I probably should add that I am not Roman Catholic. I was baptized in the Methodist church, and joined the Episcopal Church when I was 11 or 12. Both of these traditions are Protestant.

So, what's a good Protestant boy doing with the Rosary? Aren't I being some sort of Mary-worshipping Papist as I pray the "Hail Mary"?

Well, I don't think so. But these are questions I'll come back to during the week - or next weekend, at the latest.

In the meantime, this is my consumer warning that the entries up through Christmas will likely be more God-talk than anything else.

Tis the season.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Idée d’jour

Life without industry is guilt, industry without art is brutality.
— John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900).

As I recall, Mr. Ruskin was one of the founders of the "Aesthetic Movement," which fact makes this quote all the more appropriate.

Found in the Temple

DJ meditates

Lk 2:41-52
As I cautioned in the previous entry, this will be one of those "things I have learned from my cat"-type texts. These sorts of things — which generally appear on posters, e-mails, and Powerpoint Presentations, are cute — but often suffer from a preciousness which is sacharine-sweet.

I shall strive to avoid preciousness.

When we invite non-human animals into our homes, we also invite a bit of wildness in to our lives. It's a domesticated wildness which most people can tolerate. The element of wildness which felix and canus domestici offer us is unpredictability.

Granted, dogs can be trained (certainly with more facility than the average cat), but even dogs will sometimes do things which make no sense to a human observer.

Cats are a curious choice for companion. If I had grain stores, like the ancient Egyptians, or was a farmer, a cat would have a very practical use — control of the rodent population. But, as a companion for companionship's sake — counter-intuitive. The average naked ape is diurnal; I certainly am. Cats are nocturnal.

So, the difference between cats and humans is greater than "civilization" and "wildnerness", it's literally the difference between day and night.

Yet, somehow humans and felines have adapted to each others' culture, as it were.

So: what have I learned from Dame Julian?

Live in the now. I've mentioned that DJ and I often play fetch. I know DJ is unique in this, but Brother Dave has witnessed her doing it and can testify. She'll chase the object (there's up to three we use now) several times. Then, about the fourth or fifth time, she'll drop it half-way back to me, stop, and scratch or wash. There you go: if it itches, scratch it. Sleep when you're tired. Eat when you're hungry — and stop eating when you're full.

Sometimes play can be rough (and even hurt) without deeply wounding. One thing that amazed me, from the time I adopted DJ, is the fact that she seems to be able to distinguish bare skin from clothed skin. If I walk through the house bare-legged, and she attacks, her claws are withdrawn. It's been some time since she last scratched my hands or bare arms. If I'm wearing pants or long sleeves though, all bets are off.

Seems like I could apply this to human interactions somehow. For example, flirting. Sometimes men and women flirt just for play or to keep the skills honed (so to speak); it's not always intended to lead to romance. Or conjugal relations. I'm still not sure how I can discern the play from the "real", or how I can tell that play reflects romantic feelings on both sides. Still learning.

Another thing DJ is teaching me is that I can't always get my way. I've moved things (primarily stuffed toys) so she won't destroy them. I keep my study door closed so she won't attack the computer wires or the minor disaster area on the floor. I have chosen not to put up a Christmas tree, for fear that she might hurt herself attacking the ornaments (et al).

As I've said before, there is no negotiation possible here. Either I accept the consequences — some property damage, possible vet bills, potential early feline demise — or I adapt. In this regard, I have to be more adaptable than the cat.
So far as I know there is no record of what the boy Jesus said to the learned men in the Temple on that day. Even the apocryphal gospels that I've read fail to fill in this detail.

Two apocryphal gospels — afraid I don't have copies to hand — do tell this story, which I believe takes place after the incident in the Temple:
Mary and Joseph sent Jesus to a local rabbi to be tutored. At their first meeting, the rabbi asked Jesus to recite the Hebrew alphabet. Jesus replies that he will recite the alphabet if the rabbi will tell him the meaning of aleph, beth, gimel, and so on. In one version of this story, the rabbi spanks Jesus for his insolence. The hand which had performed the spanking withered, as if in a fire. However, when the rabbi repented the action, the boy restored the hand.
This story is similar to an idea I've had brewing for a few years: that the dialogue between the boy Jesus and the learned men was little more than questions. This is often the case in the canon — frequently, Jesus will say "I'll answer that question if you'll answer this one." It's also part of Talmudic tradition, which would have been germinating around this time (if not slightly earlier). Indeed, the learned men may have been amazed at the perception reflected in Jesus' questions, and how he was able to hold his own. That is, they may have been impressed at how long he was able to continue asking questions without ever making his own position or opinion clear.

You know, Jesus playing with the rabbis in this way reminds me a lot of DJ playing with me. It might smart occasionally, but it's still play. The Psalms say God made Leviathan for the sport of it (I believe that's the KJV phrase). What a concept, that the High Holy One should bless play in this fashion! What a concept that the Holy One honors questions more than definitive answers!

Friday's Cat

Here's a shot of Dame Julian I took last night, run through Photoshop's watercolor filter. I also did a little work erasing a certain human's hand, using the stamp tool.

Fair warning: later this morning, there will be an additional cat image, with text along the lines of "things I've learned from my cat."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Presentation

They brought him to receive a name.
A name which had come to them in a dream.
A name, we are told, that would be above all names. (Phil 2:9)
The name means "Consoler," "Mighty to Aid"

Once, I dreamed I would have a name.
When I was in high school, I saw myself the lead of a rock band.
Based on the sort of music I played in my bedroom,
it would have been a cross between Dylan and L. Cohen.

In my early 20s, as I returned to the Church,
I thought I would have a name.
I thought it might be, as I put it,
"A Name You Could Conjure With."
By which I meant that people would see me as dependable,
a person with integrity.
A real "Go-to Guy who gets things done."

The prophet has a word for such ego dreams:
"[your] haughtiness shall be humbled,
and [your] pride shall be brought low" (Is 2:17)

They brought him to receive a name.
A name that was born before the sun.
But he was the one who breathed life into the name.
His choices caused the name to shine.
The name is spoken on many lips
because of who he loved,
the mirror he held up.

He lived his name.
It may have begun in a dream, but he lived it.
The priest may have sealed him with the name,
but the one who was called "Teacher"
lived it.

My name came from my grandfather and his granduncle before him. I don't know if it came from a dream, or was known from the foundations of the world. I believe that, as the thinning hairs of my head are known, so am I known. I may be foolish, but it harms no one if I believe the High Holy One knows us each by name, as the unique individuals we are called to be.

I was sealed with my name when I was eight months old.
My first name is the same as His brother's.
My middle name is the same as the patron of Scotland.
And now I ask myself: "What name am I living?" —
All that has been stored up in my heart.

Lk 2:22-40

Idée d’jour

A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation. Lend and borrow to the maximum.
— Henry Miller, novelist (1891-1980)
I recently followed Brother Henry's advice by sending Ms Candide Barry Lopez' River Notes after I had finished it. She has an extensive list of other stuff she's reading right now, but I trust it will give her pleasure once she does read it.

Speaking of Brother Henry, I read a bit of his work this past Saturday. Every now and again, I pick up Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. I'm in the large middle section, which he calls "A Potpouri" right now, which is really reprints of articles that had been published by various journals. The article I read Saturday was titled "The Water Color Mania." It reminded me a great deal of a pamplet Henry wrote titled "To Paint is to Love Again."

Like me, Bro Henry did not have much training as a painter. But the work benefits from his wildness. Vibrant colors, naive forms — to see a Henry Miller watercolor is to see pure joy.

You've seen examples of my art on these pages. I've used some early work as the picture side of some of my poetic postcards (e.g., this, this and this). It's something I play with, or dabble in, as the spirit moves.

Perhaps it's time to whet the brush again.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Lunchroom Vision

Lady Bountiful
a table away
lilac eye shadow
fuschia knit top
black slacks
two inch high heels
prophetic dark hair pulled up in back

Pray for me, gracious madonna,
that I may be a fit companion
for one such as you

The Nativity

I awoke at one o'clock this morning. Don't know why. Maybe it was my sinus headache.

I tried praying for, like, 30 to 45 minutes. Finally got up and read the lessons appointed for this morning. Read the Psalms appointed for the morning of the first day of the month (1-5).

The Christian year is interesting. Many Bibical scholars believe Jesus was born in the summer, yet we celebrate his birth in the winter. Christmas is the baptism, if you will, of the Roman feast Saturnalia. Advent just happens to coincide with a Norse holiday which featured wagon wheels ringed with candles. We prepare to pilgrim to a place of holy birth just as most plant life (in the Northern Hemisphere) is dying.

One may see the Christian year as a cycle of death and rebirth, but right now seems to be both at once. We prepare for a birth, but many of the readings assigned for this period have to do with the End Times.

Many of the lessons appointed for Advent, in both the Daily and Sunday Lectionaries, are apocalyptic in tone. For example, Isaiah 2:1-11 is sure to cheer you up, depending on whether you see America as "Judah" or "Israel". The readings from the Gospel aren't exactly cheery either; this past Sunday Jesus talked about one person being taken from the field while another is left — a reading often used to validate the doctrine of the rapture. Whether it is or not, Jesus is clearly talking end-time type stuff (see Mt 24:37-44).

Many times the people who write the meditations in Forward Day By Day interpret these readings as saying that Advent is both a time to prepare for the remembrance of Jesus' birth, and a time to prepare for His return. And that may be true. But I think another reading is possible.

I think it is possible that this season may embrace the totality of life: the time we walk on earth, and the time following - of which we have but "hints and allegations".

Buddhists believe we are on a wheel of death and rebirth on this physical plane until we reach Nirvana (on a different plane). Christians believe death is rebirth into a life we can only imagine (possibly on another plane). In a sense, we cannot deny this life without denying the life to come. If we spend this life mourning the suffering of being in these physical bodies, we might not be in the proper frame of mind to appreciate whatever existence lies after death.

What if you don't believe anything lies beyond death but ashes? Well then, why suffer? As friends of Bill W would say, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."

Well, there I go: preaching to my reflection again!

Lk 2:6-14, Ps 5

Idée d’jour

The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none.
— Thomas Carlyle, writer (1795-1881)