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!)
March 26, 2012 § 2 Comments
Dedicated, with love, to Margie, who gave her final “Yes” to God on the Feast of the Annunciation.
Did you then pass on this “final gift” to me from your new abode? For first thing, that same morning, a question from John’s Gospel illumined my heart.
Who can plumb the depths of scripture? There is so much there. Poetic passages. Words and phrases and whole chapters which cause our hearts to burn or our minds to stretch and ponder. Especially does John’s Gospel do this.
For a long time I’ve been pondering the Foot Washing (more on that eventually..) Which happened at the Last Supper. But recently I shifted my attention from the “last” banquet to the “first”: The Marriage Feast of Cana. Where Jesus’ mother plays a role. Except that Jesus addresses her as “Woman” – a strikingly impersonal word. But why?
Then, in the very next story he cleanses the Temple (of the money-changers and the merchants of birds and animals), and refers to it as “my Father’s House.” Hmm….
What’s fascinating, here is that while these first two stories allude to the “parentage” of Jesus, in each case there is a startling aspect to the information. And what startles, of course, also draws our attention. When Jesus calls his mother “woman” instead of mother, we take notice and we wonder what that means. In the Temple story, when Jesus claims the Temple as my Father’s House, it startles us, for this contradicts what one disciple has already asserted is common knowledge: “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Here too, we take notice and we begin to wonder. Not only about Jesus but about his mother as well. What mystery surrounds her and his birth? For John’s Gospel does not tell us what we hear from Luke and Matthew, though its Prologue carries hints.
The mother of Jesus enters John’s Gospel only twice – near the beginning, at the wedding feast, and near the end, from the cross. On both occasions Jesus addresses her as “Woman”. And we have to assume this has meaning. Indeed, my commentaries tell me that everything in John’s Gospel is oriented to theological meaning.
So, why does Jesus address his mother as “Woman”? And what does this say theologically?
I know neither Greek or Hebrew. But I do have two books that look at Greek terms in the Four Gospels and at Hebrew terms in the Pentateuch. The Gospel index tells me that John uses woman (in Greek) only in John, both times when addressing his mother. The Pentateuch index tells me woman (in Hebrew) occurs in the second and third chapters of Genesis. Now, this is significant, for John’s Gospel begins immediately with allusions to Genesis, to creation, to the Word’s role in creation, together with the Word coming into the world – unrecognized until witnessed. (And indeed, Jesus has just promised, right before the story of the wedding feast, that the disciples will witness revelations more amazing than Jacob who said, after a theophanic dream: “God was in this place and I did not know it.”)
Now, maybe you’ve already looked up the story from Genesis to which I went the morning Margie died: the part where the first human (made from humus, soil) is all alone in the Garden and God decides to make him a “helper” – one of his own “flesh and bone”. The Hebrew term for “woman” means “helper” I am told. It is a generic term. One of those Hebrew words which can refer to a single individual and to a class, a people – at the same time. (Like Jacob who was renamed Israel, a term which stands for a man and a whole people.) Perhaps you recall the story, where after God has put the man to sleep and “fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman”:
Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.’
If this verse underlies Jesus calling his mother “Woman” in John’s Gospel, what then is its theological significance? Several things come to mind. In addition to underscoring that Jesus did indeed inherit from his mother flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone, the generic term “woman” (which links her with all of humanity) is an indicator that we too, her brothers and sisters, thereby share “flesh and bone” with Jesus. That we too are now transformed – like water into wine.
So it’s as if John’s Gospel, in its first two stories, introduces the Incarnation while theologically hinting at the way in which this Mystery elevates all of humanity at the same time. Forecasting, as well, the event at the foot of the cross – where the glorified Jesus joins his beloved disciple (each of us) with the one he again calls Woman.
So let us briefly consider Mary’s role at the wedding feast. Yes, she functions as “helper” – one who calls Jesus’ attention to the lack of wine and who instructs the servants to “Do whatever he tells you to do.” She is also specifically linked (by Jesus) to the first Woman in Genesis, thereby underscoring that her humanity is inherited by Jesus and so partaken of by us all. So that when Jesus first reveals his Glory (through the miraculous change of water into wine) he also reveals something about us.
And if I’m on the right track, then the cleansing of the Temple in John’s Gospel (which other evangelists place at the end of his ministry, but John places at the beginning) adds to the theological message. For in addition to manifesting his Divine parentage and thus his authority in the Temple, equating the Temple to his body – already linked to ours in the previous story – tells us that our bodies too are spiritual temples.
There is way more here, however. For our intimate connection to Jesus and our common humanity with Mary, his mother, speaks to the Divine illumination of the inspirited Mary ~ as our calling too. For Mary is a “type” for divinized humanity (Theotokos, “God Bearer”) – just as Jesus is a “type” for the Temple. Put them together. And consider: Within our own hearts, as in Mary’s womb, is the place of the Word’s conception (or birth, as Eckhart suggests). The place of our transformation ~ the Divinized Heart. I have more to say on this, indeed I intend to “show” what I mean – through a series of icons, but that is for another post.
July 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
Corporate Personhood. It’s basic to Judaeo-Christian heritage, though neither religion uses that term. Not only is it basic to how ancient Hebrews viewed themselves, but it profoundly grounds Christian experience as inextricably corporate: a body of believers in a mystical unity so profound, of such depth that I think it reaches into silence. For it strikes one dumb – in Awe. Or comes to fruition in prayer, in poetry, in actions of self-giving and the gift of self-transcendance. To seeing, as Paul did, Christ within (oneself and others) and all of us in Fellowship – in Him.
The Eucharist is precisely the Sacrament of this Mystery. Whose beginnings can be traced back to Genesis. As John’s Gospel makes clear.
Corporate Personhood. We see it first in Jacob. The man who wrestled with God. The man whose name was thereafter changed to Israel. A very human man, a trickster who was later tricked again and again. A man who had to flee his homeland (as later Moses had to flee) in fear of his life. A man who (like Moses) met God alone in the wilderness. Was promised God would be with him.
Jacob, Israel, stands for both a person and A People: Corporate Personhood. To speak of Israel is to recall Jacob as Father of a people and as this People’s We Identity – in terms of both nation and religion.
The Temple, so important to Israel’s public worship, so mourned by the Hebrews in exile, that when they were exiled (and deprived of Temple worship) they arrived at a deeper understanding of Yahweh as present in His word, His Torah. Yahweh: A God who called. Who promised. Who traveled with His People. Who heard their cries and supplications. Who inspired Prophets and Psalmist alike, whose actions were alive in history. A God who Spoke. A Living God. A Personal Holy Presence.
It was this Presence in Jesus: God With Us.
John’s Gospel, which so profoundly presents this Mystery of Corporate Personhood flowing from Christ, speaks early on of Jacob, of the ladder stretched between heaven and earth, what Jacob termed the Gate of Heaven, and Jesus promises his disciples they will see more than Jacob did. And John’s Gospel does not disappoint.
When Paul speaks of Mystical Body he is speaking of Corporate Personhood. Of the Fellowship with each other in Christ, in the Trinity – a mutual sharing of Divine Life.
In Christianity the concept of Temple (so revered, longed for, loved) was replaced by Christ Himself. Christ in each believer. Christ in the Body of Believers. Christ, The Word. Christ shared out. Paul understood this so well. Both mystically and practically.
There is so much more one could say about this…. Let us just dwell with it.
July 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
Who would have imagined that we could break up Time?
That we could capture what is unseen to the naked eye?
Each. Tiny. Fraction of Time. Matters.
And apropos of nothing (except the concept of Time, TS Eliot’s kind of time), I’ve been thinking of translating Goethe’s famous lyric poem, well, the most famous lyric poem in all of German literature.
First a timely quote from Eliot:
….. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
The evening with Alan‘s photograph album… And so… back to Goethe, a Romantic poet, so different from Eliot, who always must lead us into the darkest dark. But I digress…
Goethe’s Wandrers Nachtlied. Literally, “Wayfarer’s Night Song.” What we would call a “Lullaby.” Should I call it Hiker’s Lullaby? Trekker’s Lullaby? Both would be accurate. But I’ve settled on Pilgrim’s Lullaby, because I think this title provides a deeper connotation for what I see in the poem.
The German has very few lines. And few syllables in each line. I’ve tried to follow that pattern. As well as to keep to the simplicity of words, the directness of language. All to hint at an atmosphere the poem conveys.
So here goes…
Repose nestles over the hilltops.
Hardly a breath rustles the trees.
Birdsong’s hush quiets the woodland.
Bide your time. Soon…
You’ll rest in peace too.
Strictly speaking, the second line should end in the word “treetops” – but so as not to repeat “tops” and to limit the number of syllables, I took a bit of liberty.
In case you know German, here’s the Original. I memorized it so long ago…
Über allen Gipfeln
In allen Wipfeln
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.
The rhyme scheme is exquisite. Schubert set it to music.
June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
On the night he was betrayed – so powerful are those words, you know immediately to whom I am referring. Matthew’s Gospel shares with us two versions of a “price” on the head of Jesus.
First we have an unknown woman. Who approaches him and pours a priceless perfume on his head. The Fathers have encouraged us to see this as an image of faith and prayer. An image of how Jesus “God With Us” is close enough to touch and be touched. Compassionate enough to regard especially the least in his culture as worthy of approaching him. Both John’s Gospel and Matthew’s Gospel record how the cost of this precious anointing was questioned. But the point of the story, I think, is the value of the person so honored. Jesus is priceless for those who have faith, for those who seek the face of God.
Next, we have Judas. Who trades for the head of Jesus. Thirty pieces of silver was the price. The priceless one – devalued. Sold. (A temptation Jesus himself had refused when he was offered the whole world in exchange for selling his soul.)
Matthew puts this into context earlier in chapter 6: 19-21:
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Which reminds us of what really matters. Yet it’s interesting that in terms of the story, in terms of the ultimate outcome of God’s Inbreaking Kingdom, price holds a Paradox. The ultimate humility, the ultimate Incarnation, was to join with those who suffer most deeply: the tortured; the mocked; the abused; the humiliated; the innocently imprisoned, tried, convicted, condemned; the betrayed. All the disciples expected their Messiah to achieve worldly glory, an earthly kingdom, but instead, as we see throughout the Old Testament as well, God always surprises us, choosing the unlikely person or situation – hiding Himself in the most amazing ways.
Jesus had to fail and to be betrayed in order to join with us in those ways. And in that joining, to lift us up into His humble exaltation.
So I have to wonder… to ponder… the fate of Judas. To be honest, I hope he was saved.