rejecting the saving word

Posted By on Jul 18, 2018

There is a theory about history called the Axial Period and along with it Axial consciousness. It postulates that about five centuries before the birth of Jesus, the Common Era, a great leap in the evolution of consciousness took place all over the planet in several spots at the same time. This was a period when the great religions of the world took roughly the shape they were to have going forward. Among other things what is happening in human consciousness is that the magical-mythical mind and magical-mythical thinking are giving way to the rational mind. It’s also the beginning of understanding personal moral responsibility rather than simply reciting formulas and incantations to appease the gods. It’s also the beginning of charting an individual spiritual path, as opposed to a tribal one. (This is when monasticism is born, incidentally, specifically out of Buddhism, monasticism being the prime example of the individual, individualized, spiritual path, intentionally separating from family and progeny.) The religious traditions that usually get mentioned are: Hinduism––this is when the Upanishads of India burst out of the Vedas; the birth of Buddhism which leaves Hinduism behind completely; the birth of Taoism in China; the rise of Greek philosophy. And most relevant to us, perhaps, this is the era of prophecy in Israel, an evolution in the consciousness of the Chosen People as well, moving from just appeasing God with sacrifices to actually being moral people. As I heard a rabbi say once, “To be moral, you must do moral things.” There is no better example of this new consciousness in Israel––personal moral responsibility over magical formulas––than Isaiah. The middle of the Book of Isaiah is filled with consolation; but the beginning of it is not so nice. All of the areas mentioned above are being addressed early on in Isaiah––the magical-mythical thinking, personal moral responsibility, as well as the connection with the collective. God says, ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts. …Your new moon and your appointed festivals my soul hates.’ As the Book of Deuteronomy had already taught, instead‘Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart…’: ‘Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’[1] What does Christianity add to this Axial consciousness five or six hundred years later? For one thing it tries to ensure that this trajectory stays incarnate––but that is a whole other topic! More importantly in this context, Jesus can be seen as a continuation, even the apogee, of the prophetic tradition of Israel. Twice Jesus quotes the prophet Hosea chapter 6 in the Gospel of Matthew––as...

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who do you think you are?

Posted By on Jul 10, 2018

This was my homily and closing conference for our 7th Annual Camaldolese Retreat for Oblates and Friends at St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista July 6-8, 2018. There is a wonderful long quote that is often attributed to Nelson Mandela, because he used it in his inauguration speech in 1994. It actually comes from Marianne Williamson, from her book Return to Love.[1] There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. This is something that should be on a poster in every child’s room as they are growing up. This week we heard the story from the Gospel of Mark[2] about Jesus coming back to his hometown. His disciples followed him there, and he taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath: … and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!’ This next line we might not be ready for: And they took offense at him!? It’s where we get the classic phrase when Jesus says, ‘Prophets are not without honor except in their own native place. There are similar stories throughout the gospels. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew we hear that the people were astounded that such authority could be given to human beings. And earlier in the same gospel, when Jesus was in the country of the Gadarenes, there were two demoniacs, and Jesus cured them by sending the demons into a herd of swine. And when the people of the town heard about it, they came out and begged him to leave.[3] Again, not quite ready for that reaction… What makes this particular scene in the Gospel of Mark even worse is that Jesus is in his hometown, Nazareth of Galilee. They were scandalised by him in his native place. A first lesson to draw from this story is that part of the scandal of the Gospel is precisely in just how near God comes to us, in our homes, in our very nature. Part of the scandal of the Gospel is that such authority, such wisdom and power can have been given to a human being. That’s why Jesus is called...

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we hold these truths

Posted By on Jul 5, 2018

When I was a kid, not only did I learn most of the Scripture I know from listening to music; it seems as if I learned almost everything from listening to music. We all had to memorize the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence in school: When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. And so, to “declare the causes which impelled them to the separation,” they wrote this amazing document. What’s already interesting to me is the mention of God and natural law: “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” But it’s the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that I really loved. My Mom had an album by a group called The 5th Dimension, and there was a song on that album that was basically the second paragraph of the Declaration set to music (called “Declaration,” oddly enough), and I memorized it. Now, 50 years later, I don’t remember the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, but I still remember the second one well enough to sing it: “We hold these truths to be self-evident––that all people are created equal …” (I know: I am changing that for inclusive language. It actually says “all men.” But that’s part of my point…) It is self-evident––obvious, not open to debate––that all people are created equal and “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That’s the foundation of our country, the principle that all people are equal. The Laws of Nature and Nature’s God––the Creator––have endowed all human beings with rights that shall not be taken away, unalienable rights: the right to life, the right to liberty, and even the right to pursue happiness. And this is the whole reason governments are instituted, to ensure these rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted . . . deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” And “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” That of course is why...

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wake to your power

Posted By on Jul 1, 2018

This particular gospel passage (Mk 5:21-43) contains a near perfect literary device––a story within a story. There is the story of the woman with the hemorrhage but, on each side of it, it is sandwiched in by the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The lectionary actually gives us the option this Sunday of only reading the story of the woman with the hemorrhage, but this seemed like too perfect of a narrative to pass up. And I think it is significant whenever women show up in the gospels––and here we have two! Looking at the middle first, the story of the unnamed woman with the hemorrhage… The thing that sticks out glaringly in this scene is the fact that this woman is ritually unclean! According to Jewish custom, her sickness made her impure, and therefore she is prohibited from entering the temple, banned from participating in any of the religious feasts. She was the same as a leper––through no fault of her own, through nothing she had done wrong, just by virtue of being alive with this particular reaction in her body. That’s like keeping sick people out of the hospital. But not only was she impure, anyone she touched would be considered impure too––the whole teeming mass of people in the crowd that she was elbowing her way through with such determination. And specifically Jesus––who she touched on purpose! She made Jesus ritually impure! He doesn’t seem too squeamish about that, which is no surprise given what we know about him. Ah, but this is not the old temple; this is the new temple, as John tells us––the body of Jesus is the new temple, and this temple, Jesus’ body, is specifically meant to be touched, even, maybe especially, by those who were outcasts. The physicality of all this is very important. On the negative side the almost obsession with ritual purity, of not coming into contact with anything supposedly impure, of the strictest religious people of the time. It reminds one of the caste system in India too, and the dalits-the so-called untouchables. But on the positive side, the ancients believed that, just as impurity could spread from one body to another, so too healing flowed right out of the body of the healer to the sick person. This carries over right into the Christian tradition in the laying on of hands––the belief that there is real power transmitted and at work, the power of the Spirit. Even the fact that mere contact with the fringe of Jesus’ garment causes the power to flow, and the fact that Jesus feels even that, is significant here....

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This is our titular feast day since New Camaldoli was dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We celebrate it as a liturgical solemnity. There is a beautiful line in the opening prayer: “… that we may be a worthy temple of his glory.” That is a beautiful prayer for a monk, for a monastery, but really for any believer––that we may be worthy temples of God’s glory. Yet that is what we are! That is what we need to realize, that we are already temples of God’s glory. On this feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary we might want to focus primarily on Mary’s purity, though this is more in keeping with the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the mysterious concept of prevenient grace. We might be tempted to focus on Mary’s heart being a fertile garden for the Word to be planted, so that the Word has made a home in her heart, so deeply rooted that it breaks into bloom as the boy-child Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh. That might be more in keeping with the Feast of the Annunciation. We might also be drawn to reflect on Mary’s pierced heart, the image that is so popular in devotional renderings––as Simeon tells her, “Sorrow will pierce your soul, too”––but that is more the theme of Our Lady of Sorrows. Instead, the Church offers us this interesting reading, the story of the finding in the Temple from the infancy narratives in the Gospel of Luke, which points us to something different altogether. This is not intuitively the first gospel reading that comes to mind when we think of Mary, especially when we think of her “Immaculate Heart” (though her heart does get mentioned right at the end of this narrative: And Mary treasured all these things in her heart…). None of the characters in this story come off looking particularly good. Jesus seems a little naughty (as Michael Fish would say) and has run off; and Mary and Joseph seem a little negligent having lost track of their twelve-year old and are worried. When they do all find each other their main form of dialogue seems to be questions to each other, questions that are rather sharp and pointed. It’s similar to the exchange at the wedding feast at Cana when Jesus says to Mary, ‘Woman, what business is that of mine?’ Here instead Jesus says to the two of them, ‘Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?’ You have to wonder how Joseph must have felt about that, cast off to the side again. And then there is Mary, looking at this...

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joining the dance

Posted By on May 27, 2018

The 14th century German mystic Johannes Tauler once wrote that there are many wonderful things that could be said on the subject of the Trinity, even though it is impossible to explain “how the essential and transcendent unity can issue in distinctions.” (I’m glad he said that, because if he can’t figure it out I don’t know how I’m going to!) At any rate, he taught, “it is much better to have experience of the Trinity than to talk about it.” How do we do that, experience the Trinity? We should learn to “find the Trinity in ourselves,” he said; and we should realize how we are in a real way formed according to its image. [And] If we want to experience this we must turn inward, away from the activities of our faculties, both exterior and interior, away from all imaginations and all the notions we have acquired from outside ourselves, and sink and lose ourselves in the depths.” [i] Our Fr. Bruno had this marvelous teaching about the four movements or poles within Christianity. He called these four movements the Silence, the Word, the Music, and the Dance. The first three of them correspond to the first three persons of the Trinity: the 1st Person, who we normally think of exclusively with the inspired metaphor as “Father,” is first of all the Silence; the 2nd person who we know as Jesus is first and foremost, even scripturally, the Word; and the 3rd Person of course is the Spirit, but Bruno calls this pole the Music. One of the reasons I find this very helpful is that people who are not Christian––and some people who are Christian too––have a hard time accessing the images of Father and Son, especially. (I think Spirit is a little easier.) But also Christians may get stuck in the most obvious meanings as well and never understand these Persons at their root, let alone the energies that they represent because they never turn away from all the imaginations and all the notions they have acquired from outside themselves. For example, there are people who have experienced the 1st Person of the Trinity who don’t use the word “Father,” Jesus’ name for his God, the 1st Person of the Trinity. But Bruno says this first Person is equally well represented by the Silence, the fathomless abyss of the godhead. It’s not the aspect we speak about the most in mainstream Christianity, but of course this is the aspect dear to the heart of contemplatives––the silence of God. John of the Cross’ famous saying for instance: “The Father spoke one word, which was his son,...

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