Friday, December 15, 2006

the sea shall be no more

There are two scripture verses that deal with blood imagery which made me do a double take when reading (one in Exodus, the other in Esther). I want to write my thoughts about them, but before I do that I need to put down in a coherent form how blood is a poor but necessary substitute for water and how that physical reality ties into our need for grace. This leads to my understanding that our need prefigures a destiny when the specific deficiency we experience as sinners will be transformed into something unimaginably greater.

Science tells us that blood is a mechanism developed to replace the omnipresent source and sustenance available in the early phases of the evolution of life on earth: the sea. It is the localized, mobile and efficient method of sustaining life that replaced the osmosis of water through the cell walls as life evolved within water.

The Sea

Genesis 1
6: And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters."

In Genesis, God separates the "waters" and creates the dry land which depends on the water, but is substantially separated from it. The whole statistical miracle of life on earth revolves around the multi-faceted union of water and earth - be that in the atmosphere, the oceans, the polar ice caps, the lakes, rivers, streams, and from that union water and earth join in the expression of their union through LIFE. No matter how far up the food chain an animal is, it depends on earth and water, because it originated from earth and water. Total separation of earth and water = death.

While it is true that we are "stardust" physically, in our essences we are much more than that. Living things, (and most uniquely, human beings) are the urgent poetry of all creation - the galaxies, the stars, the sun, the earth and, from the other direction, the protons, electrons, neutrons, quarks, gluons, and theoretical strings. The Spirit tells us this through Paul.

Romans 8
18: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;
20: for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope;
21: because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now;
23: and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
24: For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
25: But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

So much of creation is unseen to us, whether practically or purposefully - especially the presence of God in creation! This makes the poem urgent, and if living things are the poem, life is the language of the poetry. As massive and all-encompassing a mystery as this is, it is not wholly unknowable, since we've been given the Rosetta stone which allows us to learn and speak the language of all creation - even if our rational capacity to comprehend what's being said reaches its inevitable limit.

We have the one Word necessary to know all things...

john 1
1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2: He was in the beginning with God;
3: all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
4: In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

...and to accomplish all things.

john 14
6: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
7: If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him."
8: Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied."
9: Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, `Show us the Father'?
10: Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.
11: Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.
12: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.
13: Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son;
14: if you ask anything in my name, I will do it.
15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16: And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever

To know and love Jesus, is to know the why, what, how and Who of all creation. But that knowledge is not attained, it is given to us in the innermost rooms of our hearts without merit - so that we may join in the spirit of that gift and give of ourselves to each other without expectation of reward.

John leads us to the final stanza of the poem of life by emphasizing that Christ will recapitulate all creation in himself and make us heirs and children, not only by healing the wound of original sin, but by speaking a new creation into existence!

Do we think that the universe is a static and inert canvas? Not in hands of God. The fact that if the universe were the size of the earth, our galaxy would be a grain of sand, should be enough to convince anyone of the silliness of a person making himself the center of his own heart, let alone the world around him. Everything is so unfathomable big (or unfathomably small) to underscore the even greater position of the Father towards creation.

The divide between the Father and creation was bridged by Christ. In the end, John tells us, there will be nothing for the bridge to cross over. That is truly truly good news. Frightening, exhilarating, joyful, overwhelming - all the things that make love so awesome.

Rev. 21
1: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
2: And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
3: and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;
4: he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
5: And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."
6: And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.
7: He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

salvation in the syntax

I wonder if the change in placement of the phrase divider (comma or colon, depending on Bible version) from Isaiah to Luke was purposeful by the Evangelist, or just an accident? Since the Holy Spirit is involved, you'd have to say it was a "happy accident" a la Bob Ross. It changes the meaning of the text, but both are true and provide platforms for meaningful reflection.

Isaiah ch. 40:
3: A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

This is telling us that the way needs to be prepared IN the wilderness. John of the Cross expanded on that concept quite a bit!

Luke, ch. 3
4: As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Luke is alluding to John the Baptist, as well foretelling all the voices in Church history calling people out of the world and back to Christ.

This certainly includes Mary, circa Revelation ch. 12
5: she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne,
6: and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Fascinating stuff...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Feeding the animals

Start with the fact that Bethlehem...

בית לחם

...means "house of bread" in Hebrew.

Jump forward to chapter 6 in John for Jesus' definitive declaration of himself as the "bread of life" and we can see the obvious significance. The nativity narratives tell us more specifically that Christ was born in a stable and placed in a manger. But the manger is where the animals - domesticated beasts of burden - come to eat, and they aren't given bread. Is there significance in that? I think there is a connection here with the Creation account in Genesis, and with an episode of horrible inhumanity in 2 Kings ch. 6.

In Genesis, God created both man and beasts on the 6th day. The beasts came first, then man was created. Man was made from the earth, like the beasts - but was made imago dei (more specifically, made in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, but that's another angle that I've got to remember to write down before I forget it!) Jeff Cavins makes a big point about how the sinister nature of the number 6 in scripture can be tied to this "day of the beasts" connection. Man is rooted as creature with the other living creatures of the earth by being made with them on the same day. But man was made greater than the beasts with the capacity (via existence in time) to become greater through obedience to the Father.

In light of this, the significance of Jesus being born among beasts can be seen.

There was a section in 2 Kings that struck me last year when I was reading it durning Advent. There are those verses in the Bible that stop you dead in your tracks and are so easily dismissed as abberations . I've heard Psalm 137 used as an example of why scripture is not free of error, but when you actually READ it, anyone can see that the babies being dashed on the rocks are the children of Babylon - the small tormenting demons that lead us astray - it makes complete sense.

Back to 2 Kings! Here are the verses that woke me up:

25: And there was a great famine in Sama'ria, as they besieged it, until an ass's head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove's dung for five shekels of silver.
26: Now as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, "Help, my lord, O king!"
27: And he said, "If the LORD will not help you, whence shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press?"
28: And the king asked her, "What is your trouble?" She answered, "This woman said to me, `Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.'
29: So we boiled my son, and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, `Give your son, that we may eat him'; but she has hidden her son."
30: When the king heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes -- now he was passing by upon the wall -- and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath upon his body -- 31: and he said, "May God do so to me, and more also, if the head of Eli'sha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today."

Fighting over whose baby to boil! Pretty jarring imagery for sure, but I couldn't help thinking it had a greater meaning. You've got the King witnessing the horror visited upon his people. Why? Because he failed in faithful obedience to God's covenant. Who does he blame? He blames the Lord and seeks to kill the prophet in retaliation.

I'm seeing Gospel allusions here that I can't quite list in confident detail, however there is an immediate connection that can't be ignored. The suffering people had resorted to eating their children. What's worse is they end up were bickering over whose baby to eat when and reneging on their initial macabre arrangement.

As uncomfortable as it is to think about, on Christmas day, God answered the demand of the desperate woman of Israel, "Give us your son that we may eat him." What's more, the Bread of Life was first shown to the world in a manger, in a stable, amid the sounds, sights, and smell of beasts. This is a setting which should remind humanity of our own nature as lowly creatures. And when we look at the Eucharist, we should also ponder the unfathomable humility of our God, who became low so that we may rise up with Him.

And Christ is given to us, as vs 27 alludes, from the threshing floor and from the wine press.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Done and Done

There is such a simple, yet awe inspiring distinction between Hannah's praise to God when presenting Samuel in the temple...

1 Samuel, ch. 2
1: Hannah also prayed and said, "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in thy salvation.
2: "There is none holy like the LORD, there is none besides thee; there is no rock like our God.
3: Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4: The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
5: Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6: The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7: The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
8: He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and on them he has set the world.
9: "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones; but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might shall a man prevail.
10: The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."

...and the Magnificat...

46: And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord,
47: and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48: for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
49: for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50: And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
51: He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
52: he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
53: he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.
54: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55: as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."

The covenant promises are all in past and past perfect tense. Mary is declaring that the covenant Hannah praises in the OT has been fulfilled by the Incarnation. Considering Christ was in-utero when she proclaimed this, these are words of immense power and faith!

Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Friday, November 17, 2006

True God and True Man

The man loves his run-on sentences, but this one's a beauty!

To regard Christ's knowledge as though he carried out his actions in time from some vantage-point of eternity - rather like a chess player of genius who quickly foresees the whole course of the game, and simply moves his men through a game which for him is already over - would be to do away entirely with his temporality and so with his obedience, his patience, the merit of his redemptive existence; he would no longer be the model of a Christian existence and of Christian faith. He would no longer be qualified to narrate the parables of expectation and waiting which describe the life of his followers.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar - A Theology of History, pg 39

At the beginning of that chapter he declares that "Christ's existence is receptivity". Since you have to say that our existence is subjective (JP II and Edith Stein really hammer that philosophy out well), it follows that our subjectivity relies totally on the receptivity of Christ to the Father. Our best hope is to be a reflection of that reception. So when we waste time in life trying to "find ourselves" it truly truly is a waste of time. The words of Paul frame the experience all creation is ultimately preparing for:

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. - 1 Corinthians 13.12

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

mediocrity vs. sainthood

Mother Teresa on the Christian life:

"This imposes a great responsibility on us to fight against our own ego and love of comfort that would lead us to choose a comfortable and insignificant mediocrity. We are called upon to make our lives a rivalry with Christ; we are called upon to be warriors in saris, for the church needs fighters today. Our war cry has to be 'Fight not flight.'

The church of God needs saints today. We shall go freely in the name of Jesus, to towns and villages all over the world, even amid squalid and dangerous surroundings, with Mary the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, seeking of the spiritually poorest of the poor with God's own tender affection and proclaiming to them the Good News of salvation and hope, singing with them His songs, bringing to them His love, peace, and joy. In spirit, to every part of the vast creation of God, from the furthest planet to the depths of the sea, from one abandoned convent chapel to another abandoned church, from an abortion clinic in one city to a prison cell in another, from the source of the river in one continent to a lonely mountain cave in another, and even into heaven and the gates of hell, praying with and for each of God's creation to save and sanctify each one for whom the blood of the Son of God has been shed."

Quoted from No Greater Love

Friday, October 13, 2006

in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti

From Isaiah ch. 59:

19: So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives.
20: "And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the LORD.
21: "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the LORD, from this time forth and for evermore."

Apart from revving up the base, these verses relate to what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3.5. In talking to Israel about the triumph of the new covenant, Isaiah compares the coming of the Lord to water driven by Spirit. The "rushing stream" is living, not inert and the same wind that blew across creation in Genesis and spoke to Samuel and Elijah forces that water to prepare the way of the Lord. Not only does this tie in with the prescription for being "born anew", it also is connected with the imagery of Psalm 42:

1: As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.
2: My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3: My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, "Where is your God?"
(skipping ahead...)
7: Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me.

The author of the psalm calls to life the imagery of our unconscious need, and unceasing search for water by comparing it to the deer chasing after flowing streams. Again, this is living water, and the living seek it. But water is also deeply connected with sorrow, suffering, and the feeling of abandonment. Tears are swallowed by the man who is mocked for his faith in a God that abandoned him. When this experience (the door between hope and despair) is endured with humility and patience, it is glorified by God who answers a simple need for "water" within the human heart by sending a flood of mercy. Deep calls to deep. IT swallows US. The flood of retribution has become, through Christ, the tide of salvation.

This is the same water that flowed from Christ's side, and it calls us to be formed anew in the womb of His heart. Our subconscious associates security with the intimate warmth of our initial environment of liquid darkness. The Gospel is an invitation to envelop ourselves in this new womb of Christ's love.

Edith Stein argued that the primary function of the created world was to serve as symbolic expression of that which is higher. Night, light, darkness, water, life and death - all things are mere shadows of what they are meant to describe. If we accept that this world will one day fall off us like a cocoon, this is a logical way to see things. In light of this, the imagery and characteristics of water first and foremost provide insight into the failure of man, and the redemption offered by God. This new covenant incorporates water and spirit as specific signs of God's offer and our act of acceptance.

Isaiah talks about the words of the new covenant being placed in the mouths of all who receive the spirit.

21: "And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: my spirit which is upon you, and my words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your children, or out of the mouth of your children's children, says the LORD, from this time forth and for evermore."

They came from the Word, with the water and we have them forever. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Blood of Christ

When Jesus talks to Nicodemus, he hammers home the concept of being born anew (as opposed to "again")

John 3
1: Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
2: This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him."
3: Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4: Nicode'mus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
5: Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7: Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.'
8: The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit."

Water and Spirit. Those are the two requisites, and those coincide with Baptism easy enough. But Nico is stuck in the imagery and concept of physical birth. He has every reason to be stuck there because that's the only "birth" he's familiar with. It's the only one I'm familiar with! Why does Christ present birth as the process for entering the kingdom of God, and yet associate birth with tangible images that are abstract and confusing?

Like with everything old, Jesus brings the new not to replace but to fulfill. And now, thanks to JPII, we should learn to look carefully at scripture when imagery and activity of the human body are present.

Human birth involves:
a. Time: human sexual impluse > conception > 40 weeks gestation > labor > birth
b. Pain: see Genesis Three Sixteen (big coincidence there) or ask your mother.
c. Water: the amniotic fluid literally floods out at some point prior to delivery
d. Blood: a birth is a messy affair

Three of these things are missing from the recipe for rebirth Jesus gave to Nico. Water is the one thing in common - Oh, and the part about a mother's womb! So what are we to think? Is it that being born anew does not require time, pain, blood and a mother? These questions are answered for Nicodemus - and the rest of us - by John later in the story.

Time - John 17
1: When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee,

A Mother - John 19
26: When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27: Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Pain - All of John 19

Blood (and water) - John 19
34: But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

Jesus is taking on the Pain of the woman giving birth, he is delivering the new creation at the fullness of our collective 40 weeks, and what's more it is blood and water coming from his side! We are born from our mother's womb - only Eve was born from the flesh of a man. Birth into the Kingdom of God has been accomplished through Christ's Passion and the profound image of his side being pierced in the presence of John and Mary is the answer to the confusion expressed by Nico and shared by me.

Being born anew, is being born from the new Adam. Christ took care of the labor and delivery, and he left us the Spirit for everyone to reap the eternal reward of life through Him, with Him and in Him.

There is some crazy stuff in the Bible.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

True dat

From Fr. Stan's Oct. 5 message:

St. Faustina is right-in-there in the “big leagues” with little t and francesco. In the amazing #303 of her diary she says:

Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love, which lends value to our actions. And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will become a delight! By the grace of God I have received such a disposition of heart that I am never so happy as when I suffer for Jesus, whom I love with every beat of my heart.

The source of this unfathomable abyss is the God of mercy who is rich in mercy, who “out of the great love with which he loved us, even when were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). I pray that Francesco, little t, faustina and jp will pray for us that as they did their part, Christ will teach us ours.
Blessed Mother Theresa certainly did her part and advised us along the same lines: “Do not seek great things, but do everything with great love.”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Not as the world gives...

I was reading the beginning of Job, ch. 40 the other day and it struck me how God is describing to Job what humanity will eventually do to his Son.

And the LORD said to Job:

2: "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."

3: Then Job answered the LORD:

4: "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth.

5: I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further."

6: Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:

7: "Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.

8: Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?

Job had asked in Ch. 31 for just this type of judgment on himself - so that he could see if there were indeed reasons for his suffering.

33: if I have concealed my transgressions from men, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom,

34: because I stood in great fear of the multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors --

35: Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary!

36: Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me as a crown;

37: I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.

38: "If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together;

39: if I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners;

40: let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley." The words of Job are ended.

And we are told that when it says the words of Job are ended in Hebrew it simply reads:

Tav in Hebrew - the last letter of the alphabet. The origins and functions of this letter are quite interesting when considered in the light of this passage from Job.

Tav was translated into Greek as Tau. This is a letter whose imagery and meaning we are all familiar with.

Peace of Christ,