giving birth to God (part I)

Posted By on Dec 25, 2016

(cyprian) I remember back in 2012, after the massacre of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, people were wondering if it was okay to still celebrate Christmas. Fr. Raniero mentioned the other day that some folks were wondering the same thing this year, is it okay to celebrate Christmas with all the rotten things that have happened lately, including even just this week. I have this wonderful group of friends up in Santa Cruz and besides meditation and music the two biggest things we were involved in were interreligious dialogue and environmental issues, two issues whose stocks have plummeted drastically in this current cultural political atmosphere. And I wrote to a friend who was feeling a little low that I thought our new mantra should be, “Now More Than Ever!” And I think the same thing about Christmas. Now more than ever is it important for us to understand the implications of this great mystery, the manifestation of God in human form, and to understand the dignity of what it means to be a human being in the light of that. Vigils, our prayer at 5:30 AM, is a liturgy at which it can sometimes be hard to pay attention. As our Br. Bede likes to say, Vigils can be rather “prolix.” (I used to think that that word meant that it had a lot of words, but I looked it up. It actually means “lengthy and tedious”!) But every now and then a line will really pop out at me, and I’ll want there. I wrote to one friend who was a little dismayed by all this that ouro elbow the guy next to me or whisper to someone as we’re taking our robes off right afterward, “Did you hear that?!” And one morning recently one line stuck out to me. It’s from the Discourses of St. Anselm. He wrote: “All nature was created by God, and now God was born of Mary! God had created all, and Mary gave birth to God!”[i] Now this is language that we are somewhat used to hearing, but somehow it sounded brand new and shocking to me. I saw this great cycle revolving around the word “nature”––nature created by God, and God born of Mary. If you’ll excuse me dabbling for a moment into evolutionary theory: All of nature is created by God––you might even could say it pours out from the God who is the ground of being, the womb of possibility. And nature gets set in motion, and the minerals and chemicals become life, teeming with life––single-cell creatures, organisms, then plants and fish, amphibians, birds, mammals. And then...

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a singularity in the universe

Posted By on Dec 23, 2016

cyprian There’s been something interesting about the last five days, liturgically speaking. All through the season of Advent we’ve been hearing from all four gospels but for the first reading we’ve heard nothing but the prophet Isaiah. But these last days it’s the other way around: we’ve been hearing from a different source from the First Covenant every day, but only from the Gospel of Luke. I’m guess that there is a reason for that. Luke is all about the fulfillment of promises. This applies to Matthew to some extent as well, and so we heard the Book of Genesis before we heard the genealogy in Matthew, and from Jeremiah before we heard about Joseph’s dream. But then it really picked up, hearing about annunciation of the birth of Samson along with that of John the Baptist, back to Isaiah speaking to Ahaz leading us to Mary’s annunciation. I loved hearing the reading from the Song of Songs on the 21st––Hark, my lover, he comes!––leading up to the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (though we could have also heard from Zephaniah), and then the foreshadowing of Jesus himself in the presentation of Samuel in the temple by Hannah, and the roots of Mary’s Magnificat. And then we read this fiery passage from Malachi today, introducing us to john the Baptist again by warning us that Elijah is coming back. And today’s scene is filled with hushed awe and wonder as they gaze at this baby, John and ask each other, “What will this child be? Indeed the hand of the Lord is upon him!” Recall how may times Elijah comes up in the gospels, several times specifically in relation to John the Baptist. Luke himself has said earlier when Gabriel announced John’s birth that he would be in the spirit and power of Elijah, and Jesus himself says of John in the Gospel of Mark that ‘Elijah has come. (Mk 9-12-13).’ This has led some to speculate that John the Baptist is actually the reincarnation of Elijah, a theory in which of course orthodox Christianity does not abide. In the Gospel of John the Baptizer himself is specifically asked if he is Elijah and he denies it. No, that is somehow the beauty of human birth and John’s birth in particular, that each child born can be seen as somehow both a part of a greater plan and yet still have a singularity about him or her. Every birth is somehow the fulfillment of a promise, and of the promise: that time and history itself are going somewhere, and going somewhere good. There’s a beautiful passage from Adam...

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a house of prayer for all people

Posted By on Dec 17, 2016

(cyprian) It is generally believed that there were three different people who prophesied under the mantle of Isaiah. The first Isaiah, amidst his beautiful poetry, issued lots of threats and condemnation to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the second Isaiah preached a message of consolation to the exiles in Babylon; this third Isaiah is preaching to the returned exiles. This part of the Book of Isaiah is marked by a kind of sadness and melancholy, but also by new visions for the future and the beginning of apocalyptic writing. Not even death will mar the new heaven and new earth created by the Lord! We heard the opening passage of the third book yesterday (Is 56:1-8), and right away it’s almost as if the prophet is exhorting the returned exiles that their faith has to be open to the possibility of Judaism becoming universal, a world religion. First Isaiah had looked upon foreigners as scourges; Second Isaiah saw foreigners as instruments for saving Israel, like King Cyrus was. Third Isaiah opens the temple services and priesthood to them! Up until this time foreigners living in Palestine were granted limited rights and protection, but now Third Isaiah extends full privileges even to those living outside the boundaries of the promised land––as long as they fulfill the Sabbath. There are other instances of this universalist tendency already in the Book of Ruth and Jonah, even in Deuteronomy, but Third Isaiah seems to be reaching all the way back into the earliest history of Israel to reintroduce the diverse kinds of people that God had elected: Arameans, Amorites and Hittites, mixed foreign elements and even eunuchs. Third Isaiah wants the possibility of everyone’s full admission among God’s people. ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.’ There is a teaching from Ken Wilber that I’ve always liked. He is drawing on the language of developmental psychologists. They suggest that each human being as a child needs to start at a necessary phase of selfishness, needs to be able to scream for mother when hungry or frightened, because that child is totally dependent on outside forces for survival. But then each human being is meant to move from selfishness to care. Now they distinguish here that generally women move from selfishness to care, whereas men move from selfishness to rights, that is, care of or the rights of, first of all, one’s family, and then an ever widening extended family circle, tribe, village, perhaps ethnic group, nation, the collective of belonging. And then there is a stage beyond this as well, to move from care or rights––care of family, tribe and...

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(cyprian) This is the second week in a row that the church is doing this to us: what seems like good news is in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, and the harsh stuff is in the Gospel reading. And right in between the two is the patience of James. It’s Gaudete Sunday, the Latin word for “Rejoice!” a word that is in the official entrance antiphon of the liturgy––Gaudete in Domino semper: Dominus proper est!––as well as in the second readings from the Letters to the Thessalonians and the Philippians in Years B & C, but this year instead, we don’t necessarily get the giddy rejoicing. We are invited into the sober waiting of the Letter to James: “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” Remember that we are here at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. John has been preparing for that––Jesus’ earthly ministry––, not for Jesus’ birth. So here in the middle of Advent the Church in her liturgical readings is asking us to re-examine our commitment to discipleship. John at this point in the gospel story seems to be passing his own disciples on to Jesus, and it’s as if we are being called like the first disciples of Jesus. Bernard of Clairvaux calls this the second coming of Christ. The first was the Word made flesh with a human nature in the womb of Mary, which we won’t celebrate for two weeks yet. The third is the final fulfillment of the promise, when Christ comes again in the world to judge the living and the dead, and to draw all things to himself, which we already talked about at the end of Ordinary Time and the beginning of Advent. But in between those two, in these weeks, St. Bernard speaks of a second coming, which is the most important for us: Christ being present in our souls, his passage through our lives, through the desert of our hearts, with the challenge of the gospel. And the question I think that challenges us today is the question that Jesus turns and asks the crowd: ‘What did you go out to the desert to see?’ “Well, Lord, I believed the prophet! I believed the promise! I came to see the desert and the parched land exult, the steppe rejoice and bloom with abundant flowers. I came to see the glory of Lebanon and the splendor of Carmel. I came to see the eyes of the blind opened and the ears of the deaf cleared! I came to see the lame leap like astag and the tongue of the mute sing! I came to be met with joy and gladness, I came expecting...

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