March 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
Long ago I had a dream. It was some time after we moved away from a spiritual home, a contemplative Benedictine monastery. I was bereft. Challenged – in my new work of learning psychotherapy. In the dream I was faced with a ruined monastery, a pasture strewn with weathered stones. Which I felt compelled to somehow rebuild. Stone by stone. It was an impossible task. But there it was!
I am reminded of this dream by the election of a new Pope, who has chosen the name, Francis, and by words spoken to his namesake, while praying:
Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.
Having pondered these words, in the light of the crisis currently gripping the church of Rome, I cannot but consider all their portent as a key to what this new Pope faces and must try to tackle. Like my dream, admittedly, an impossible task. This post is an effort to ponder a bit, in the light of scripture, the meaning of those words: Repair my house.
House, as a concept, is rich in meaning throughout the entire Bible. In addition to a specific dwelling, house in the Hebrew Bible often refers to a lineage or an entire people. It’s a common figure of speech, where a “part” stands for the “whole”. So, for example, the House of Israel, which can stand for the lineage of Jacob, given the name Israel after his encounter with God. Or House of Israel can stand for the entire Jewish nation as we see over and over, for example in these psalm verses:
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God. [Psalm 98.3]
The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron; [Psalm 115.12]
O house of Israel, bless the Lord!
O house of Aaron, bless the Lord! [Psalm 135.19]
There is another meaning for house in the Bible. It can stand for the dwelling of the Holy One. And along with that there is a strong admonition that no man can build such a house, without the express direction of YHWH, the Holy One. There is a long story about this in the Book of Samuel and you can find a pretty good explanation of it here. The long and short of it is found once again in a Psalm:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
St. Francis would have been aware of this admonition. Pope Francis, as well. But there is another, perhaps even more important, aspect to the story from Second Samuel, which concerns a prophecy, one which bears on the use of the term house in the New Testament:
12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
Christ identified himself with the Temple in Jerusalem, which is another way of saying that Jesus is the true dwelling of YHWH, the very residence of God’s Glory. Revealer of God’s word and will. Capable of imparting Divine Life to willing souls. And Paul took up this image for the ecclesia, the assembly of Christians, which we now term, the church.
Thus, if you are following along here, there is a progression from the concrete (an actual house, an actual lineage or people, an actual Temple) to a metaphor, which is a Spiritual Reality, the assembled People of God, which constitutes the Living Christ, the Divine Life (of promise) embodied in each and all of us. Assuming that we allow ourselves to be built, fashioned, in the Divine Image. This is the mystical understanding of John’s Gospel and of many passages in Paul’s letters. It is not a work we can do on our own, any more than David could build a house for the Lord on his own.
This requires Divine initiative. A calling. And humble response.
Now I am no prophet nor seer. But it does not take a lightening strike to see the state of crisis in the church of Rome. And it doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to interpret the name “Francis” and the choice of that name by a humble, newly elected Pope, faced with a church falling into ruins – to come up with an accurate interpretation – for our day – of words (and a calling!) first given to St. Francis, and now inherited by Pope Francis:
“Go Francis, and repair my house … falling into ruin.”
January 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’ll confess from the outset: For a long time, I had trouble appreciating St. Paul. Eventually I came to really treasure Paul’s mystical side, his lyrical, poetic passages and prayers. But even then, Preachy Paul, who could be something of a scold, sorely tried my patience.
I am no scholar of Paul. Nor am I any kind of expert on scripture. But lately I’ve gained some compassion for Paul’s tendency to be judgmental and scolding. How or why this change of perspective on Paul came about I can’t explain. It’s a good feeling when God changes your heart. And that’s what this feels like.
God’s mercy is never-ending. And it often comes when (and how) we least expect it. Even at times when we may least deserve it. I can attest to that – from my own experience. And Paul is a perfect example!
This Mercy of God, so Undeserved, so Relentless in its pursuit of people. Well, to me it’s one of the greatest proofs of God’s unique care for each of us, God’s stunning willingness to upend things and prod us to rethink and change direction.
So I think of Paul. A scholar of Jewish law. A zealot, by his own admission. A party to persecution. A witness to martyrdom. A tent-maker. A man who kept the Commandments. Was zealous about prayer, scrupulous about performing the duties of a pious Jew. And who, for a time, felt deputized to scour the countryside in search of wayward Jews… new followers of a strange prophet, who’d been crucified and was rumored to have been raised from the dead.
We know very little about Paul before his conversion. But from the little we know, we have to assume, I think, that he was a passionate man. That he had a passion for God. A passion for Torah. A passion to take matters into his own hands? It would appear so. A bit prideful? That too. Hasty at times? He was definitely a man on a mission. Judgmental? Yes, indeedy!
Now we know even less about God’s choice of Paul. But from the disciples Jesus chose, we can make some assumptions. We can think of Moses and Abraham and Jacob – all chosen as well. We can think of prophets, so many of whom tried to decline the Divine intervention in their lives, viewing themselves as sinful or not up to the task.
But Paul is unique in a sense. An intellectual. A zealot on a self-chosen mission. A man versed in Torah. Venerating Torah. So dedicated to Torah he was willing to exterminate those he viewed as veering off the Torah path. But a man who turned on a dime, so to speak. Becoming one with those he was persecuting. Because Jesus’ appearance, especially his words – “Why are you persecuting me?” – made it clear that Jesus was ONE with them.
It seems to me that Paul’s mystical side relates especially to this encounter with Jesus. To the moment when his whole life was turned inside out and upside down. When Holy Mystery took hold of him and, suddenly, he knew this Mystery – to be the Risen Christ. And his judgmental side? I wonder if that is the thorn in his flesh, which bothered (and humbled) him. We all have these limitations. Yet God pursues us and bids us welcome… nonetheless. I find that very comforting.
July 9, 2012 § 2 Comments
Scripture is like a symphony. One does not listen to just one note or one measure or one chord or one theme. Scripture vibrates and resonates. There are echoes one can hear. One musical instrument answering another. Or questioning. Cymbals clashing. Silences. Conversations. The sounds of water. Of trees rustling. If you listen closely. If you read with heart tuned. Scripture arose through such a process. And it remains alive for those who steep themselves (in it) as one steeps tea.
This morning I was reading Psalm 39 (40) – depending upon how one counts the psalms. And I heard it speaking, not just to me, but to the end of John’s Gospel. Or you could say I understood that the end of John’s Gospel was like an echo/commentary on verses of that psalm. And hearing the melody gave me new insight into what the writer of John was doing. For when one hears such a melody it is like a cue to await further reverberations hidden in both texts.
Origin was a master at this way of reading scripture. Like someone weaving an exquisite tapestry, he moves back and forth throughout the entire Bible – using vibrant colored threads to create images and metaphors as he brings to life a text – through other texts. He is both breathtaking and charming. And I’ve only just begun to drink deeply at the wells he’s opened up, whose waters have seeped into much of spiritual and theological writing (in spite of his being martyred as a heretic).
But I digress…
Let’s start with the end of John’s Gospel. Which is probably familiar to many. Its final verse [John 21:25] reads:
But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
And now listen to this verse from Psalm 40 (Grail Version):
6 How many, O LORD my God,
are the wonders and designs
that you have worked for us;
you have no equal.
Should I wish to proclaim or speak of them,
they would be more than I can tell!
Now, whether or not this is the real ending to John is not our concern here. But this resonance between the Old and New Testaments, between prayer (the psalm) and announcing the Good News (the Gospel) is just one example of what occurs all over the place in scripture. It is exactly the method the resurrected Christ taught the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. A method clearly understood and practiced by Origin.
John’s Gospel can usefully be read as a call to decision. As a witness to events, which prompts a response. Indeed its penultimate verse hints at a community which seems to endorse the Gospel writer as: “the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” A community of converts one has to assume. Perhaps even a community whose members might have experienced conversion in the manner of psalm 40 [NRSV]:
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts towards us;
none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, ‘Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.’
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe for ever.
12 For evils have encompassed me
my iniquities have overtaken me,
until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion
who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
who say to me, ‘Aha, Aha!’
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!’
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.
I hope perhaps this psalm may be your guide to a closer reading of John’s Gospel (and its impact on you). Just as Luke’s story of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (and their subsequent carrying of Jesus’ message back to Jerusalem) resonates - like an opening theme or interpretive key – for the Gospel it immediately precedes. Opening our eyes to the fact that nothing in scripture stands by itself.
This is just one tiny example of the power of the Divine Symphony which plays in Scripture. And of which we ourselves are a part. We too are words spoken by our Creator. Notes in the cosmic symphony. Like musical instruments awaiting the Spirit’s breath to come to life. Exactly as the psalmist did in the words above.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
May 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
What is this REST that Jesus offers?
When Jesus declares: “and I will give you Rest” the Jews of his time would have heard echoes of Genesis and Exodus. The Sabbath Rest. The Promise of Rest. Wholeness and healing. Safety and security. Absence of oppression. A Merciful Heart ~ like His.
And note that just prior to this offer to all of us, Matthew’s gospel has Jesus declare that God has placed everything in his hands:
27All things have been handed over to me by my Father…
And this quote is significant. For it links with John’s Gospel:
And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Note the similarities in both Gospels at this point. We have Jesus declaring his indwelling union with the Father, which includes a “handing over” of everything and a tender care for everyone. A gift of self. A share in Divinity. For it not only relates to Christ’s Lordship over everything, but in both places its context is one of Christ’s humility, his desire to share His LIFE with us. His self-emptying servanthood, meant to teach us to do the same.
So when Jesus says to us: “Come to me… take my yoke…” he not not only offers to join us to himself, but he thereby asks that we too become “callers” and “carriers” – people who offer ourselves, who offer to share the burdens and the suffering of others. To bring wholeness and healing, Sabbath Rest, to a broken world.
Indeed, immediately following this in-gathering Call in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ explicitly declares himself Lord of the Sabbath:
12At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ 3He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
Lord of the Sabbath – another Name of God that Jesus shares with the Father. But there is more in those words above. For Jesus, in declaring that the priests are above the sabbath (that they can “break” the law of the sabbath), is reminding us of our own priesthood. The priesthood of our Baptism.
Sabbath. Rest. Liberation from the Law. Reminder of our share in his priesthood.
May 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Do you have one quote from Scripture that has stayed with you for decades? Something you’ve pondered deeply? Which runs, like a refrain, through your life? Lives within you?
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
(from Matthew 11: 25-30)
Now the link above actually gives you both the quote and its the foregoing context. (A context that links to the foot-washing in John 13.) But from my childhood, when I first heard the words, nearly 60 years ago, the “come to me” has resonated so deeply. And through the years individual words and phrases, ones you find all over the Bible, these too, I’ve pondered again and again: Come. Rest. Mercy in a gentle, caring God. Offering peace and rest. A personal call. The sense of mission – which actually scared me as a child of 8 or 9. (What would God ask of me?)
I love that quote.
14He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
There’s so much here. This is enough for now.
April 5, 2012 § Leave a Comment
It’s very interesting how liturgical dates affect us, even if they are out of sync, so to speak. Ash Wednesday did that to me (a liturgical date that is not marked within Orthodoxy, but surely happened in my heart). And now it’s Holy Thursday, one week early (in terms of the Orthodox celebration this year). Nonetheless, here I am, musing on the Foot Washing, and feeling the need to write up some thoughts I’ve been pondering for a while.
The icon above shows us the disciples taking off their sandals. Which reminds me of the Burning Bush and the words to Moses: “ Take off your shoes. For this is Holy Ground.” And since icons are part of Tradition, one has to wonder if the Icon itself is intended to remind us of Moses’ first encounter with Holy Mystery (YHWH). We certainly cannot discount that.
But actually we have no description of this in John’s Gospel. Instead, I think, we are (perhaps) reminded of the First Chapter of John, where John himself assures us, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.“
So I wonder… as Jesus went from disciple to disciple, even as Peter tried to stop him, did Jesus not only wash feet but untie sandals to do so? For if untying sandals is a lowly task, how much more lowly the task of washing feet? We are left to ponder this as well, for John provides no clues.
Two things have struck me of late. The first one is a link between the Foot Washing (John, Chapter 13) and the discourse on the Vine and the Branches (John, Chapter 15). And the second relates to the kind of humility asked of us, not the kind we usually think of (to follow the example of the foot-washing in terms of our brothers and sisters), but the very command that to receive a share in the Divine Life we must hand ourselves over to the one who seeks to wash our feet, something we, like Peter, shrink from. For it is almost inconceivable to what lengths the Holy One will go in search of us, in a desire to heal and cleanse us, in an insistent yearning to unite with us, as the very Holy Ground upon which we walk and out of which we grow: An inner and outer Abiding, which is our very Life. To which we must freely submit. For it is not something we can do on our own.
So where do I get this idea that the Foot Washing (Chapter 13) connects to the Vine and Branches (Chapter 15) in John’s Gospel? Once again, while I have no command of Greek, I am told in various sources that the Greek word for “cleanse, make clean” is the same word as “prune, take away, cut off” – a term which appears only in these two chapters of John, only in reference to the foot-washing (the interchange with Peter) and the pruning of branches. Hmmm….
In Chapter 15, we are told that the pruning of the branches is the work of the Father. And that the cleansing occurs through the action of the Word:
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.
Compare this to Chapter 13 where Peter at first refuses to have his feet washed:
6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’
And what is this share we receive through the washing? I think Chapter 15 provides a clue:
4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. 9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Once again, the “LOVE Command” (in relation to the Vine and Branches) – already stated in Chapter 13 after the Foot Washing (following an announcement of Jesus’ coming glorification):
34I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
And underlying all of this, I think, the singular and amazing point, underscored in Chapter 15, in connection with the Love Command:
16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…
The foot-washing, it seems to me, emphasizes an almost maternal care and love, including even the description of the Beloved Disciple resting on Jesus’ breast, together with an insistence that we, too, beloved disciples, must accept this painstaking, attentive care, turning ourselves over (in an almost childlike dependency) to an indwelling and personal intimacy, wherein the Divine Life permeates and transforms us. And I think that the allusions (within the foot-washing) to the Vine and the Branches, together with the command to go and bear fruit, suggests our spiritual priesthood, where the pressed fruit is at times spoken of in Hebrew as the blood of the grape.
So, yes, I’ve been pondering….
But there is yet one more aspect to the Foot Washing, which complements and extends what I’ve already said. (And by no means have I exhausted the meaning of this Chapter!) For the foot-washing is preceded by an interesting comment:
3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
Now the wonderful thing about scripture, to my mind, is how words, phrases, verses, whole stories in one place resonate with other parts of scripture. (Like the ringing of a bell I once heard as if I my whole self was also resonating.) And while I cannot assure you that the quote I am about to make really does fit with the words in bold above, nevertheless, given the connections between Jesus as Word (present at the Creation we are assured from John’s Prologue) and Old Testament descriptions of Wisdom‘s power and role within creation itself, there is something cosmic going on here – at this banquet:
1 All wisdom is from the Lord,
and with him it remains for ever.
2 The sand of the sea, the drops of rain,
and the days of eternity—who can count them?
3 The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth,
the abyss, and wisdom—who can search them out?
4 Wisdom was created before all other things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.
6 The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties—who knows them?
8 There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared,
seated upon his throne—the Lord.
9 It is he who created her;
he saw her and took her measure;
he poured her out upon all his works,
10 upon all the living according to his gift;
he lavished her upon those who love him. (Sirach 1: 1-10)
April 3, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Mary, Theotokos and so much more! God-Bearer. Disciple. Priesthood Personified. Divinization. Spirit Bearer. Not necessarily in that order.
In the post which precedes this post, I laid the groundwork for what I hope to do here. I provided a scriptural underpinning for our common humanity with both Mary and her son (who receives his humanity from her and wants to share his Divinity with us).
Instead of just putting my comments into words, I hope to do so through images. For it is not just a saying that “one picture is worth a thousand words” but indeed our right hemisphere codes meaning in “flashes” you might say, in imagery, packing “wholeness” for us, which pages and pages of words can only try to unpack.
So without further ado, I want to present several images. Images which “show” what I hope to say here, images which tell us theological truths about Mary, the Theotokos, and also about our own calling, to be transformed into God-Bearers ~ in order to exercise a Priestly Calling: to bring all things into Christ.
We are all called.
As Moses was called.
As Mary was called.
We live into it.
As best we can.
Mary, Theotokos, tells us everything
I’m trying to say.
Our hearts and Mary’s heart.
Streams of Life running through us.
The Gift of Tears.
The Sacred in the Ordinary.
A Heart crushed and broken!
On Fire with Love!
Mary’s Calling and our Calling. The inner priesthood of the heart. Note Mary’s upturned hands in the orans or priestly position. The inner Christ. Presiding in Temple of our Heart. The flame of the Spirit within our hearts.
See Alexander Golitzin’s wonderful paper (in two parts) on Liturgy and Mysticism, which does a far better job than I could ever do in putting all this together. See also this wonderful description by him of the Place of the Presence of God – in the living presence of a divinized holy person. (These articles require time and attention, but yield much fruit!)