unless a grain of wheat

Posted By on Mar 17, 2017

(cyprian, for Emmanuel) There is one memory I have of Brother Emmanuel that will always be my favorite. It was one morning after Vigils––I think I was still a novice––and he and I were walking back down to the chapel together on the way to Lauds as we did most days. (Even as a young monk it did not seem to me to be a bad thing to break the Grand Silence when it came to Emmanuel. If he wanted to talk you just listen.) The moon was just setting in the sky as the sun was coming up. We had two dogs named Buddy and Scooter who adored Emmanuel, but for some reason only Scooter was with him that day. And Emmanuel looks up at that moon and then turns to Scooter and says, “Look at that moon, Scooter! I’m gonna put it in a box and show it to Buddy.” I want to say at that moment I was instantly enlightened, or at least I suspected that I was in the presence of a master of some sort, maybe a Christian shaman. The thing is, I could imagine him actually doing just that, putting that moon into a box and showing it to Buddy. If I were to write an icon of Emmanuel it would be of him holding a shoebox with the moon in it, showing it to a dog. St. Paul in both his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians warns against being enslaved to what he refers to as “the elemental spirits of the universe,”[i] and we certainly know as Christians that we are not supposed to worship them. But, on the other hand if St. Paul is writing about them, these elemental spirits of the universe, then we can safely assume that there actually are such things––elemental spirits, some kind of intelligence or even a rudimentary consciousness about natural created things. Certainly St. Thomas Aquinas thought that even animals and plants have some share in the soul or psyche. (And, oh, Emmanuel was so delighted about the fact that Pope Francis suggested that there might be dogs in heaven! I think he was dreaming of Buddy and Scooter greeting him with their tongues hanging out and their tails wagging, ready for a ride in the bucket of the skip loader.) And neither our scriptures nor the teaching of the church ever say that we don’t commune with these spirits, live in harmony with this intelligence and these elements. Now I realize that this sounds like a very New Age-y argument, but doesn’t Jesus himself command the sea and wind––and they obey him![ii]...

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the temptation to grasp for power

Posted By on Mar 7, 2017

(1st Sunday of Lent, Year A: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 91; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11)   I was first inclined to approach the three temptations of Jesus that we read this week in the gospel as representing three separate things, as we often hear. I recall one teaching that associates the three of them with fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and another that associates them with poverty, chastity, and obedience. But perhaps all three of the temptations can be seen as all of a piece, one overriding temptation having to do with power. Think of it this way: the first temptation––to turn the stones into bread––was for Jesus to use his power for himself, like magic. In the second one––to cast himself down from the parapet: maybe it’s not that the devil is putting the Lord God to the test; perhaps he is tempting Jesus to put God to the test or, again, tempting Jesus to put his own powers to the test, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. And the third one––the invitation to worship the devil––is a choice about from whom or from what or from where Jesus was going to choose his power. But we can also look at this story in its liturgical context. Each of the three years we hear an account of the temptations––each year from a different evangelist, of course––and each year also against the background of a different reading from the Hebrew Scriptures as well as a different epistle. This year (Year A, which especially in Lent is the quintessential cycle of readings for the catechumenate) both of the ancillary readings to Matthew’s version are pointing us back to the original sin, or at least to our foundational myth about how sin came into the world––Eve, the serpent and the apple. I want to return once more to this idea that I got from the transpersonal psychologist Michael Washburn, that we come forth from God as if from the womb of possibility, from the dynamic ground of being (and consciousness). And we start on a trajectory in the normal course of growth toward becoming an independent generative person bursting forth with creative energy––developing an ego, developing a sense of ‘I, me, mine.’ Now you might say that that’s actually the real problem, this ego, this ‘I’ sense, but I think the ego gets a bad name, especially in spiritual circles. Our friend the Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski writes beautifully about this in his book Living Presence. He says that the ego “is a fundamentally positive energy,” and it has all kinds of positive qualities––“aspiration, diligence, responsibility, self-respect, discipline, integrity” all come...

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public and private

Posted By on Mar 2, 2017

I have been reading David Brooks’ marvelous book The Road to Character lately. These days, when the word “values” is thrown around rather cavalierly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between our personal uprightness and social sin. In his chapter about the civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, Brooks writes about why civil rights leaders were so captivated by the Book of Exodus. “The Israelites were led by a man, Moses, who was meek, passive and intemperate, and who felt himself inadequate to the task,” he says, and the leaders of the civil rights movement had to tackle these same issues: “how to reconcile passion with patience, [how to reconcile] authority with power sharing, [how to reconcile] clarity of purpose with self-doubt (133).” (What a great litany! Reconciling passion with patience / authority with power sharing / and clarity of purpose with self-doubt…) Especially those who are thrust into any kind of positions of leadership, be it ministry or parenthood, have to face this kind of tension all the time. Consider these other two biblical images: we don’t want to just be voices crying in the wilderness (Mt 3:3); we also want to be yeast in the dough (Mt 13:33), meaning who we are is just as important as what we proclaim from the rooftops (Mt 10:27). Without getting partisan about it, one of the reasons I bring this up is because in this country our new administration has stirred up so much debate about rights and values, and like never before we are seeing the fissure between diametrically opposed views of the world. And so many of our own oblates and friends are particularly fired up these days about social issues. It has made me reflect on the place of the contemplative in all of this. The topic of sin is not very popular these days, yet Brooks tries to find new vocabulary to call us to accountability.[1] On the one hand we need to acknowledge our own sinful nature. Just as we’ll never be able to see “the long chain of consequences arising from what we do,” neither can we understand “even the origins of our own impulses.” In other words, we are never as virtuous as we think we are, and our motives are never as pure in reality as they are in our own accounting. And yet, while we acknowledge that our motives may not always be pure and that we may wind up being corrupted by whatever power we manage to attain and use, it’s still “necessary to take aggressive action to fight evil and injustice (149),” as well...

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be holy, be perfect, be merciful

Posted By on Feb 22, 2017

(cyprian) I am quite fascinated by the idea of the evolution of consciousness, and I’d like to suggest that it goes along with the evolution of our understanding of God as well as the evolution of morality. I’m reminded of Theodore Parker’s famous quote, paraphrased by Dr. King and loved by President Obama: I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. In this case you could say, the arc of salvation history is long and it bends toward mercy. In some way we start out with the law of reciprocal retribution or retaliation––that is, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, as the Old Testament allows. As a matter of fact this is mentioned in three different places, in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.[1] Of course we know as Christians, as followers of Jesus, that this is not enough, as we hear in the gospel (Mt 5:38-48). But even that, reciprocal retribution or retaliation, was kind of an evolved view. Remember, for example, when Lamech says in the Book of Genesis, ‘If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.’[2] (You will guess where else that comes up––in Jesus teaching about forgiveness!) This tends to be the rule of war––remember “Shock and Awe”? Or the way the State of Israel bombs the Palestinians every time an incident happens, usually disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense. That’s the way we human beings normally operate, to let someone know who’s the strongest, the mightiest. But then along comes Hammurabi, the king of Babylon, in the 18th century before the Common Era, with a new code of conduct that taught that if someone pierced the eye of a free citizen, their eye would be pierced; and if someone broke the bone of a free citizen, their bone would be broken; and if someone broke the tooth of a free citizen, their tooth would be broken”––and only that. This seems to be origin of the law of retaliation in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy––an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth––but only that. It actually already represents a softening of the style of justice in Genesis. As we get deeper into the history of the Hebrew people, we learn instead that Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.[3] The just no longer get or take their own vengeance, but they do pray that the...

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I’m down in San Luis Obispo where we celebrated the funeral for Fr. Ray Roh, OSB Cam. yesterday––as a matter of fact, stranded here due to yet another rock slide on the PCH! This was my homily for the Mass. I came pretty late to know Fr. Ray, really just only in the last three and a half years after he came and asked if he and the community could transfer their stability to our Camaldolese Congregation from the Olivetan Congregation. I mention that because I am really not in a position to eulogize Ray. In any case, I always feel the need to start out a homily at a funeral Mass––or in this case especially I should say a Mass of the Resurrection––by reminding the assembly that a homily at a Mass for the Dead is not supposed to be about the deceased anyway. It’s supposed to be about Jesus, the Gospel, and even more specifically, it is supposed to be about the Risen Christ. Or maybe even better to say it’s about the relation of the one who has died to the Risen Christ.   And that’s what makes this one easy, or at least gives me an easy entry point. The first thing I thought of when I was considering this homily was the fact that Ray was the founder of a place called the Monastery of the Risen Christ. It was Ray who came early to this area, found that property, established the non-profit corporation and, more importantly, named it the Monastery of the Risen Christ. This is not a typical name for a monastery. As a matter of fact I could not find one other monastery anywhere named the Monastery of the Risen Christ, and it is all the more poignant for that reason. I’ve been re-reading N. T. Wright’s marvelous book Surprised by Hope recently, the subtitle of which is also important: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Bishop Wright’s central thesis is that the “…early Christian future hope centered firmly on resurrection” but most of us tend not to understand its centrality. The folks who deny the resurrection (or dismiss it off as a pious myth) tend to rely too much on the social gospel and think that everything is about building God’s kingdom on earth––without God’s help! On the other hand, those who think that resurrection is only about our bodies dying and our souls going to heaven are also missing the point. What may be kind of surprising is that the first Christians “virtually never spoke simply of going to heaven when they died”; they did...

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I was honored to offer three conferences and preach for the Liturgical Composers Forum in St. Louis January 24-25. This was my homily for the Eucharist on the Feast of the Conversion of Paul. David Haas sent us a marvelous modern image for this feast that in the midst of cleaning up a hack job on my email account I lost. If someone could re-send it to me I would add it here. I’ll put this one in for now. At least it doesn’t have that darned horse.  I was raised in the ambience of all kinds of suspicion of Saint Paul: that he was the one who “invented” Christianity, that he was a misogynist and an enabler of slavery, that he was sexually frustrated, that there is a little too much Paul there and not enough Jesus. But I have always tended to support the underdog; I wrote my very first paper “defending” Paul when I was18 years old. (It was against the charge of misogyny and being a slavery sympathizer, by the way; which is not to say that he wasn’t either of them but just that that is not what was being conveyed in his kerygma.) What that has been replaced with over the past couple of decades is recognizing St. Paul as a genuine mystic. Mind you, I know enough about mysticism to know that someone can have a genuine enlightenment experience––an immediate/unmediated experience of God, a mystical experience––and still be unenlightened on social issues, and still not get the facts right. But that doesn’t take away the fact that he or she could also be a mystic. And for me the main focus of St. Paul’s mysticism is his sense of the Body of Christ, and it stems back to this experience on the road to Damascus. I recently stumbled upon this poem by Malcolm Gutie who is described on the back cover of his book as a poet, priest and singer-songwriter from Cambridge. (I realized that, outside of the Cambridge location, “poet, priest and singer-songwriter” applied to several of the people in that particular assembly.) This poem is called “St. Stephen”; it’s addressed to Stephen but this part is about Saul/Paul: When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter, He had to pass through that Damascus gate Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter As Christ, alive in you, forgot his hate, And showed him the same light you saw from heaven And taught him, through his blindness, how to see; Christ did not ask, ‘Why are you stoning Stephen?’ But, ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’[1] (Since I was in...

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