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Monday, July 31, 2006

Scripture Interpretation

Today's (Tuesday's) reading is one of those I find, well, scary. Here's part of it ...

... so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. - Mt 13:36-43

And this brings up an issue that often troubles me - what should I do about scripture passages that seem to contradict my idea of who Jesus is? I don't have a good answer, so usually I just ignore the stuff that disturbs me, but in a search for more info, I found an interesting article at American Catholic ... Interpreting the Bible: The Right and the Responsibility by Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M., a member of the faculty of the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California.

The article mentions the different poles of Biuble interpretation ... the fundamentalist view ...

that the Bible is the literal word of God, virtually dictated by God to the sacred authors and therefore to be taken literally as completely free of error of any kind (historical, scientific, theological, moral, social, etc.) and absolutely authoritative for the reader.

... and the other extreme taken by secular scholars (I prefer to err in this direction) ...

The Bible, in such a context, ceases to mediate an encounter with God and becomes primarily a source of historical knowledge about ancient Israel and the first Christian communities.

The Catholic Church's approach, the article says, is not to embrace one or the other mentioned above, but a combination of the best of each ....

The biblical texts, then, bear all the marks of human composition: historical conditioning, prejudice, factual error and moral limitation, as well as deep theological and religious insight into the mystery of God's relationship with humanity. It is this twofold character of the biblical text, its mysterious divine depths expressed in humanly fallible language, which makes interpretation necessary.

It's at this point in the article that we get closer to the answer to my original question. There's a lot of info in this section, but I didn't want to leave out too much, so ...

1) Just as we try to gather all the clues we can (facial expression, tone of voice, context and so on) to interpret ordinary communication, so we need as much information as we can gather about the biblical text we are trying to interpret. It is helpful, therefore, to read a nontechnical but academically sound commentary on the book or passage one is studying in order to have an overall sense of its meaning and its special problems.

2) We should try to keep a balance between respect for the enormous cultural, historical and linguistic distance separating us as modern readers from the ancient world of these texts and basic confidence in the capacity of the humanity we share with these ancient peoples to help bridge that distance. Just as someone who is not a specialist in 16th-century English literature can enjoy a Shakespeare play, so a nonspecialist in biblical matters can understand much of the biblical text if she or he is willing to make the necessary effort.

3) We should read the biblical text as holistically as possible. Before returning to meditate on a single verse that has captured our attention, we should read the whole text in which it appears, that is, the whole parable, narrative or discourse. Details have fuller meaning and are less likely to be misinterpreted if read in context.

4) Since the Bible is the product of a community experience and is meant to nourish and guide the community of believers, it is helpful to share biblical study and prayer with others. Because every great text has multiple meanings and layers of significance, different dimensions of meaning will be discovered by different readers. Furthermore, sharing interpretation minimizes the chances of totally erroneous or idiosyncratic reading.

5) It is important to pay special attention to those texts that make us uncomfortable. God's ways are not our ways. Revelation often breaks through precisely where our personal biases and social prejudices are called into question and not just where we are comforted or confirmed in what we already think.

6) We should try to discern the "trajectory" or direction in which a problematic text is leading its readers, even if the text did not get to a fully satisfactory position. Paul, for example, did not get to the point of condemning slavery outright but he set out in that direction when he told slaves that their servitude was not really to their human masters but to Christ, and when he challenged Philemon to accept his escaped slave Onesimus as a brother in the faith.

7) Finally, we need to read the Bible prayerfully. The ultimate purpose of reading Scripture is not to find out the answers to our questions or to obtain theological information. It is to gradually put on the mind of Christ so that we will be able to find answers for our time and world that reflect God's creative and saving will for all people.


That last bit seems to be speaking especially to me ... I do read scripture for answers to questions and for theological info, but perhaps I'm approaching it the wrong way. Someone gave me a piece of advice on this subject recently ...

Getting to know what we should or should not be doing isn't just about trying to find out God's opinion on the subject but about getting to know the God behind the subject. The primary revelation isn't this or that proposition but God.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Happy St. Ignatius Day!

Monday, July 31, is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the 450th anniversary of St. Ignatius' death.

***

Here is a link to fifty letters written by Ignatius of Loyola to his brother Jesuits ... Selected Letters and Instructions of St. Ignatius of Loyola .... edited by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J. from the Woodstock Theological Center ...

Much of Saint Ignatius Loyola's spiritual teaching is found in his letters, and these have always been regarded by Jesuits as an important source of their spirituality. Among Ignatius' many letters, those written to his fellow Jesuits have always had a special place, for in these the Jesuit of today not only finds Ignatius' teaching on the spiritual life, but he also meets Ignatius the man, expressing his affection for and interest in those to whom he wrote .... This present collection contains fifty letters and instructions written to Jesuits. ... each letter is preceded by a short introduction, identifying the letter's recipient and indicating or explaining the occasion for the letter. The letters are given in chronological order and cover the years from September 1541 to July 20, 1566, eleven days before Ignatius' death.

***


- view a document signed by Saint Ignatius in 1551 and later adorned with a fragment of bone from his skeleton. - Written Relics: Autographs from the Talbot Collection

***

Read about the Jesuit Jubilee Presentation at Creighton University.


Loaves and Fishes

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Open Range



This week's DVD was Open Range, a 2003 western starring Kevin Costner (Charlie), Robert Duvall (Boss), Annette Bening (Sue), and adspted from a novel - The Open Range Men by Lauran Paine. The plot concerns the range wars that took place in the American West in the late 1800s.

Here's some bits from the Washington Post's review ...

... "Open Range" is the kind of movie that Costner knows how to make, whether he's acting in it or directing. It's about the big things and the small details, a movie about America as a nation but also the specific habits and behavior of individuals. The story takes place at a crucial turning point in America's social history. Isolated settlements are becoming expanding towns and, more and more, the lone riders are being asked to identify themselves with a particular locale. Rugged heroes -- and wandering varmints -- are becoming obsolete.

As for the details, the film exults in them. This is an actor's feast, with finely honed performances from Duvall and Costner. Boss is a man who sees things clearly, no matter if it's the past, present or future. He can see the times changing. He can measure a man's worth. And he can understand the difference between violence and honor.

Charley, a former sniper in the Civil War, has painful memories to forget. He's a step behind Boss in terms of moral development, but he's catching up fast. The proof of that will be his relationship with women, particularly with Sue Barlow (Annette Bening, in one of her finest roles), the doctor's assistant who patches up bleeding men and sends them back into town. For Charley, it's not going to be enough to run cattle and kill those who threaten him. He won't be complete until he reaches and accepts the woman waiting to embrace him.

But forget that heavy stuff. This is also a grand old shooting-party flick, in which the bad guys are bad guys and the good guys have higher purpose ...


I hadn't wanted to see the movie, but my sister brought it over, so I gave it a look. I'm glad I did. The Canadian locations were stunning and the performances were very good. There were two parts of the movie that especially touched me ... the gunfight. It was very, very disturbing, perhaps because the violence seemed so realistic, not romanticized or stylized, but too long, messy and devoid of self-righteous joy .... the relationships. They were authentic, straightforward, vulnerable and almost painful in their honesty.

If you like westerns, or Costner/Duvall/Bening, or just a tale that touches on freedom, redemption, justice and love :-) then you might like Open Range.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

St. James, the Apostle



Today's the Feast of St. James, the Apostle. One of the interesting things about St. James is that during the middle ages, many people venerated him by going on a pilgrimage to where his remains are said to lie in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north-westernmost Spain. People still make this pilgrimage today, called "the way of St. James", and as Wikipedia says, there are a number of routes ...

There is not a single route - the Way can be one of any number of pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela. However a few of the routes are considered main ones. Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination as it is considered the burial site of the apostle James the Great. Legend states that St. James' remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where they were buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. In the middle ages the route was highly travelled. However reformation and unrest in 16th century Europe resulted in its decline. In the early 1980's only a few pilgrims a year arrived in Santiago. However, since the late 1980s the way has attracted a growing number of modern-day pilgrims from all around the globe. The route was declared the first European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in October 1987 and inscribed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 1993.



There was an article a couple of years ago in the Tablet, in which Michael McMahon described his own pilgrimage to Compostel experience ...

For 1,000 years, pilgrims have walked the camino de Santiago to the tomb of St James the Apostle in northwestern Spain. One who completed his 500 mile journey last week discovered on the way that Providence, in the guise of people he met, eased his passage When we caught sight of the twin towers of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, I asked Luigi how he felt. “Arriving doesn’t make me any happier”, he told me. “How could it? My heart is absolutely full.” We had walked the last 30 kilometres of the camino together, and he had spent much of that time telling me how grateful he was for every single moment of his pilgrimage ....

(snip)

... Luigi certainly knew what it felt like to be “held” in the hand of God, and it was a blessing to walk into Santiago in his company. His cup was running over with happiness, but it wasn’t the happiness of having made it: happiness like that would soon be only a memory. He was happy because he knew that the God who had walked with him on the camino wasn’t going to leave him to walk the rest of his life by himself, and from now on he was determined to share that happiness with everyone he met. It was just before 6 p.m. when we wound our way through the medieval streets to the cathedral, and its battery of bells began to clatter and clank and clang as if to express our joy. Outside the Puerta Santa, Luigi turned to me, smiled, gave me a bear hug and kissed me hard on both cheeks. “Well, Michael”, he said. “Here we are in Santiago de Compostela. Now, the camino really begins.”


- Always rely on the kindness of strangers - The Tablet


- Santiago de Compostela


- interior

Read more about St. James

Read more about Santiago de Compostela


Friday, July 21, 2006

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene, in looking around for info on Mary, I found a page by Vicente Durán Casas S.J. - Dean of the Philosophy Faculty, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia. Here below is part of what he'd written about Mary Magdalen and Rainer Maria Rilke ...

In 1911, German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) was walking absentmindedly down Rue du Bac, in Paris, and when he entered an antique bookstore, he started to pry into an old manuscript that contained an anonymous French sermon of the 17th century. As he read it the literary beauty that had fallen under his eyes by mere chance, and that had touched his intelligence and moved his heart astounded him. The text, called L’amour de Madeleine (Magdalene’s Love), had apparently been discovered by abbé Joseph Bonnet in Saint Petersburg’s Imperial Library, and some consider that due to the literary characteristics, it should be attributed to the famous preacher Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704). Rilke quickly bought the text, translated it into German in his austere room of Rue de Varenne and showed it to the world. His words about it are precise: “an extraordinary sermon, luminous, of a true spiritual relevance” ....

(snip)

.... The text begins like this: “Magdalene, Jesus’ saintly lover, loved him in his three conditions: she loved him alive, she loved him dead, she loved him resurrected. She showed the tenderness of her love for Jesus Christ present and alive, the perseverance of her love for Jesus Christ dead and buried, the impatience and the transport, the outbursts, the fainting fits and the excesses of her helpless love for Jesus resurrected and ascended to heaven”.

- the page



And here is a bit from Creighton University's Daily Reflection page ...

Today is the celebration of Mary Magdalene as the ‘apostle to the apostles’ (as the early Church referred to her). It was clear to the early Christians reading of the scriptures, that Mary Magdalene was indeed a messenger/preacher of the good news that Jesus was risen, and as all four gospels testify, Mary Magdalene and the women were the first to bring the good news to the other sisters and brothers who were still mourning Jesus’ death.

Unfortunately the Catholic Church of the west seemed to lose sight of this tremendous role of Mary Magdalene for over 1400 years from the 5th century until the late 20th century, teaching instead, a tradition that confused Mary Magdalene with the penitent woman of the gospels (and traditionally referring to her as a repentant prostitute). In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church revised its liturgical calendar and dropped the definer, ‘penitent’, and finally aligned their teachings with the Church of the East by renaming Mary Magdalene as a saint.

- Daily Reflection for July 22nd, 2006 by Cathy Weiss Pedersen

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Body's Grace

Last night I read a speech written by Rowan Williams (now the Archbishop of Canterbury) and made to members of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Association when he was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University in 1989, on the subject of human sexduality ... The Body's Grace.

I found some of the concepts challenging, but in a good way . Below I've posted some bits from an interesting sermon on William's speech by the Reverend Thomas Morris. And below that, I've posted some excerpts from William's speech itself.

Rev. Morris ...

Entering the "body's grace", Williams writes, is moving toward " a sense of oneself beyond the customary imagined barrier between the inner and outer, the private and shared -- we belong with and to each other." For us to admit this, that we need another person and for us to stand helpless before that other waiting for that one to need us is also to say we need God. And to know what it is like to be the source of joy and pleasure for another person is to begin to experience being the object ourselves of God's love, of God's delight in us. In the same way God tells Jeremiah, the Divine lover says to you and me, "before I formed you in the womb I knew you." How else would the Psalmist's sing, "Lord you have searched me out and known me; for you yourself created my inmost parts -- my body is not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth."

For some of us we explore our desire in the complex of commitment to one other in the forming of a union that seeks to be life long. For others it is lived in the single life of searching and waiting for the gift of another. And still for others there is a life given to God which is not an alternative to the exploration of desire but a choice to see if they can discover themselves in a life dependent upon the "generous delight of God alone."

Whatever your circumstance, whether by choice or fate, what is true is that our desire is good. It draws us into places and relationships where we know joy as well as rejection, where we face our limits and celebrate our unique strengths. For in our desire we rest in the embrace of the One we seek knowing that we have been found.


And here are some parts of The Body's Grace ...

The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.

The life of the Christian community has as its rationale - if not invariably its practical reality - the task of teaching us this: so ordering our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion of joy. It is not surprising that sexual imagery is freely used, in and out of the Bible, for this newness of perception. What is less clear is why the fact of sexual desire, the concrete stories of human sexuality rather than the generalising metaphors it produces, are so grudgingly seen as matters of grace, or only admitted as matters of grace when fenced with conditions. Understanding this involves us in stepping back to look rather harder at the nature of sexual desire; and this is where abstractness and overambitious theory threaten.

(big snips)

Married sex has, in principle, an openness to the more tangible goals of producing children; its "justification" is more concrete than what I’ve been suggesting as the inner logic and process of the sexual relation itself. If we can set the movement of sexual desire within this larger purpose, we can perhaps more easily accommodate the embarrassment and insecurity of desire: it's all in a good cause, and a good cause that can be visibly and plainly evaluated in its usefulness and success.

Same-sex love annoyingly poses the question of what the meaning of desire is in itself, not considered as instrumental to some other process (the peopling of the world); and this immediately brings us up against the possibility not only of pain and humiliation without any clear payoff', but - just as worryingly - of non-functional joy: or, to put it less starkly, joy whose material "production" is an embodied person aware of grace.

(more snips)

A theology of the body's grace which can do justice to the experience, the pain and the variety, of concrete sexual discovery is not, I believe, a marginal eccentricity in the doctrinal spectrum. It depends heavily on believing in a certain sort of God - the trinitarian creator and saviour of the world - and it draws in a great many themes in the Christian understanding of humanity, helping us to a better critical grasp of the nature and the dangers of corporate human living.

It is surely time to give time to this, especially when so much public Christian comment on these matters is not only non-theological but positively anti-theological. But for now let me close with some words from a non Christian writer who has managed to say more about true theology than most so-called professionals like myself.

I know no better account of the body's grace, and of its precariousness.

It is perception above all which will free us from tragedy. Not the perception of illusion or of a fantasy that would deny the power of fate and nature. But perception wedded to matter itself, a knowledge that comes to us from the sense of the body, a wisdom born of wholeness of mind and body come together in the heart. The heart dies in us. This is the self we have lost, the self we daily sacrifice (Susan Griffin, Pornography and Silence Culture’s Revenge Against Nature, London 1981, p 154).



- Rowan Williams


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Dreams



All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.
--T.E. Lawrence

I dream by night, and the dreams I remember lately are odd enough ... Kermit being taken away in a car by my dead grandparents, eating frog legs and liking them (eek!), Doug reminding me to read the Israeli newspapers, and being covered in mustard and eaten, myself, by New Guinea cannibals :-)

But, others dream by day, and one of them was Pedro Arrupe SJ. There are a number of reasons I've been thinking about Arrupe ... I'm reading about him in the book by James Martin SJ, My Life With The Saints ... I saw a derogitory mention on another blog of "Arrupean Jesuits" ... I watched the movie The Mission again last night. For those who don't know of him, he was the twenty-eighth Father General (1965-83) of the Society of Jesus, controversial for the promotion of social justice, over and above, some detractors say, the "helping of souls". Others see the two goals as one.

Creighton University's Justice page says this about a 1973 speech by Pedro Arrupe ...

This is the speech that Fr. Arrupe gave to the gathering of Alumni of Jesuit schools. Valencia, Spain, 1973. Many in his audience walked out. Defining what he meant by doing the "works of justice" he said:

First, a basic attitude of respect for all people which forbids us ever to use them as instruments for our own profit.

Second, a firm resolve never to profit from, or allow ourselves to be suborned by, positions of power deriving from privilege, for to do so, even passively, is equivalent to active oppression. To be drugged by the comforts of privilege is to become contributors to injustice as silent beneficiaries of the fruits of injustice.

Third, an attitude not simply of refusal but of counterattack against injustice; a decision to work with others toward the dismantling of unjust social structures so that the weak, the oppressed, the marginalized of this world may be set free.


Read the whole speech - Men and Women for Others.

What Arrupe dreamt of in that above speech became reality a couple of years later through Decree 4 of the 32nd General Congregation ...

The defining moment of Fr. Arrupe's leadership of the Jesuits was probably the 32nd General Congregation, which he called in 1975. O'Keefe says Arrupe, "had a dream to bring together all the great desires and talents of the men of the Society under a single mission." He says that dream was crystalized in the document (decree 4), "Our Mission Today: the Service of FAith and the Promotion of Justice." This decree was so hotly debated that it was not voted on, and accepted by an wverwhelming majority of delegate, until the very last day of the congregation, March 7, 1975. O'Keefe says, "It sent shivers through us. It was an electric, prophetic moment."
- link

Those who criticize the "Arrupean Jesuits" fail to recognize that the same General Congregation that advocated social justice also promoted the rediscovery of Ignatian spirituality through the Spiritual Exercises ...

... A key element in the pedagogy of the Exercises is that its aim is to remove the barriers between God and man so that the Spirit speaks directly with man. Inherent in this Ignatian practice of spiritual direction is a deep respect for the exercitant as he is and for the culture, background and tradition that have gone into making him what he is. Moreover, the pedagogy of the Exercises is a pedagogy of discernment. It teaches a man to discover for himself where God is calling him, what God wants him to do, as he is, where he is, among his own people .... Thus, the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises is one of the most important we can undertake today. We should by all means encourage studies, research and experiment directed toward helping our contemporaries experience the vitality of the Exercises as adapted to the new needs which are theirs. Moreover the spirit of the Exercises should pervade every other ministry of the Word that we undertake.

Arrupe's dream has had a price tag ... more than 40 Jesuits have been killed while living out his vision. But Ignatius asked the members of his order not to count the cost of helping souls, and the number of those who have benefitted from this attitude is beyond measure.


- Pedro Arrupe SJ


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Delete, Delete, Delete

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Memorial of St. Bonaventure



Today is the Memorial of St. Bonaventure. Wikipedia says of him ...

Saint Bonaventura (born Giovanni di Fidanza) (1221 – July 15, 1274), was a Franciscan theologian. He was born at Bagnoregio in Latium, not far from Viterbo. He is said to have received his cognomen of Bonaventura when he was cured from a serious childhood illness through the intercession of St Francis of Assisi. He entered the Franciscan order in 1243, and studied at Paris possibly under Alexander of Hales, and certainly under Alexander's successor, John of Rochelle, to whose chair he succeeded in 1253. Three years earlier his fame had gained for him to Lector on the Sentences, and in 1255 he received the degree of master, the medieval equivalent of doctor. In the year after having successfully defended his order against the reproaches of the anti-mendicant party, he was elected general of his order. It was by his order that Roger Bacon, a Franciscan Friar himself, was interdicted from lecturing at Oxford, and compelled to put himself under the surveillance of the order at Paris. He was instrumental in procuring the election of Gregory X, who rewarded him with the titles of cardinal and bishop of Albano, and insisted on his presence at the great Council of Lyon in the year 1274. There after, his significant contributions led to a union of the Greek and Latin Churches, he died. The only extant relic of the Saint is the arm and hand with which he wrote his great Commentary on the Four Books of Peter Lombard, which arm is now conserved at Bagnoregio, in the parish Church of St. Nicholas.
- Read all of the Wikipedia article, which goes into more detail on Bonaventure's theology/philosophy.

An excellent page on Bonaventure, with many of his writings, from The Franciscan Archive, is The Internet Guide to St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.


From the above site, here is ... Prayer after Communion, by St. Bonaventure, still in use today, this is an ardent prayer for union with Christ ...

Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the
most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, and with true,
calm and most holy apostolic charity, that my soul may ever
languish and melt with entire love and longing for Thee,
may yearn for Thee and for thy courts, may long to be
dissolved and to be with Thee. Grant that my soul may
hunger after Thee, the Bread of Angels, the refreshment of
holy souls, our daily and supersubstantial bread, having
all sweetness and savor and every delightful taste. May my
heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, Whom the angels
desire to look upon, and may my inmost soul be filled with
the sweetness of Thy savor; may it ever thirst for Thee,
the fountain of life, the fountain of widsom and knowledge,
the fountain of eternal light, the torrent of pleasure, the
fulness of the house of God; may it ever compass Thee, seek
Thee, find Thee, run to Thee, come up to Thee, meditate on
Thee, speak of Thee, and do all for the praise and glory of
Thy name, with humility and discretion, with love and
delight, with ease and affection, with perseverence to the
end; and be Thou alone ever my hope, my entire confidence,
my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and
tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my food, my
refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my
possession, my treasure; in Whom may my mind and my heart
be ever fixed and firm and rooted immovably. Amen.


And, finally, some art ...


- St Bonaventura Receiving the Banner of St Sepulchre from the Madonna


- St. Bonaventure receives the envoys of the Holy Roman Emperor


- The body of St. Bonaventure in the presence of Pope Gregory X and James I of Aragon


Friday, July 14, 2006

A Few Things

Can't think of what to post, so here are just a few things ...

I've come across the writings of British theologian, Fr. James Alison. Wikipedia says of him ...

Dr. James Alison (b. 1959) is a Catholic theologian, priest, and author. He is noted for his work on gay issues and the application of René Girard's anthropological theory in theology. James Alison studied at Blackfriars, Oxford University, and earned his bachelors and master’s degrees and doctorate in Theology from the Jesuit Theology Faculty in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He was a member of the Dominican Order from 1981 to 1995. He has lived and worked in Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, and the United States. Currently he lives in England, his native country.

His writings can be found at James Alison - Theology and an article by him on Pentecost can be found at the Tablet - The wild ride.

***

There's an interesting article from the past in Theology Today ... Bringing Matthew Fox in from the Cold ...

The theological tilt in Fox's brand of mysticism is toward creation. His aim is not only to be creationcentered in his spirituality, but also to warn the world about any version of Christianity in which creation appears as an afterthought.... While intriguing in itself, the most significant feature of this argument may be that a mystic is making it. Fox's work provides clear evidence that a lively sense of divine creation can block both the sex-negativism and the indifference to public life that has bedeviled the mystic tradition through the centuries.

***

Tonight is the start of the new season for Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis ... woohoo!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

William L. Peterson



I was reminded today of an actor I like very much ... William L. Peterson. He's best known for his role on the tv series CSI, but he's done a number of movies as well, and there are four that have especially touched me ...


* To Live and Die in L.A.

Made in 1985, and directed by William Friedkin (The French Connection), this also starred Willem Dafoe, and was based on a novel by a former Secret Service Agent. Peterson plays (surprise :-) a Secret Service Agent who works for the Treasury Department, and who is after counterfeiter Dafoe. The most talked about part of the movie is a chase scene, with a car going full tilt backwards on an LA freeway. It's extremely violent and nihilistic and I found it both disturbing and riviting. Roger Ebert writes in his review ...

The central performance is by William L. Petersen, a Chicago stage actor who comes across as tough, wiry and smart. He has some of the qualities of a Steve McQueen, with more complexity. Another strong performance in the movie is by Willem Dafoe as the counterfeiter, cool and professional as he discusses the realities of his business.
I like movies that teach me about something, movies that have researched their subject and contain a lot of information, casually contained in between the big dramatic scenes. "To Live and Die in L. A." seems to know a lot about counterfeiting and also about the interior policies of the Secret Service. The film isn't just about cops and robbers, but about two systems of doing business, and how one of the systems finds a way to change itself in order to defeat the other.





* Manhunter

This is a 1986 film, directed by Michael Mann (The Last of the Mohicans), that was based on the first Hannibal Lector novel by Thomas Harris, Red Dragon (pre-Silence of the Lambs). Peterson plays a former FBI Agent and profiler who had captured Lector sometime in the past. The movie is notable both for the accalimed performance of Tom Noonan and for the soundtrack . Needless to say, this film is also very violent, but I liked the vulnerability Peterson gave his character. (There was a recent remake of this film, titled Red Dragon with Edward Norton, Anthony Hopkins and Ralph Fiennes, but I prefer the original). Wikipedia writes ...

Petersen plays Will Graham, a former FBI agent who captured the infamous Lecter and was almost killed in the process; he is so traumatized by the event that he retires from the FBI. His former partner, Jack Crawford, calls him out of retirement to help find a killer called "The Tooth Fairy" who is murdering entire families. Graham is a profiler who has an uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer and think as he does. Graham visits Lecter in prison in order to help get back in the state of mind necessary to empathize with a psychopath.




The other two movies were hard to hunt down online as they were made for TV and not exactly ... ahem ... well received, but I liked them. One is about a miraculous (and true life) staircase, and the other is about a giant man-eating squid :-)

* The Staircase

This was a 1998 made for tv movie which tells the story of an unusual stairway built in the 1870s for the Sisters of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Peterson starred as the mysterious carpenter who built the staircase. Here's a bit about the story from The Loretto Chapel site ...

To find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Legend says on the ninth and final day of prayer, a man showed up at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself. The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. The staircase has two 360 degree turns and has no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails -- only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction. Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including "Unsolved Mysteries" and the Kraft movie called "The Staircase".



* The Beast

This was a 1996 made for tv movie, taken from a Peter Benchley novel, and Peterson played a struggling fisherman, widowed and with a daughter. With the help of a marine biologist, he manages to destroy a giant squid which has been snacking on the citizens of his village. He's good in it ... really! And thers's the giant squid ... need I say more? :-)


- :-)


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

St. Ignatius


- Ignatius - St. Peter's Basilica

I'm now reading about St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, in My Life With The Saints by James Martin SJ. (read an interview with Fr. Martin about his book at The Leaven.com). I won't go into what he writes about him (read it yourself :-) but I do feel inspired to post some pictures of St. Ignatius ...






- Detail from painting by Peter Paul Rubens


- Icon by Fr. William McNichols SJ


- contributed by Jeff :-)


Rilke Poem

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We do not know his unheard of head,
in which the seeing of his eyes ripened. But
his trunk still glows like a thousand candles,
in which his looking, only turned down slightly,

continues to shine. Otherwise the thrust of the
breast wouldn't blind you, and from the light twist
of the loins a smile wouldn't flow into
that center where the generative power thrived.

Otherwise this stone would stand half disfigured
under the transparent fall of the shoulders,
and wouldn't shimmer like the skin of a wild animal;

it wouldn't be breaking out, like a star, on
all its sides: for there is no place on this stone,
that does not see you. You must change your life.

- RM Rilke


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Field Where I Died



Can't sleep. Watching an old X-Files episode in which Agent Mulder meets a woman who he comes to believe he knew in a past civil-war-era lifetime. They were separated back then by death, when he was shot ... and also in the present, when she kills herself. Below is some of their dialogue from the show ...

***

At times I almost dream
I too have spent a life the sages way
And tread once more familiar paths
Perchance I perished in an arrogant self-alliance an age ago
And in that act a prayer
for one more chance went up so earnest so...
Instinct with better light let in by death
that life was blotted out not so completely
But scattered wrecks enough of it to remain
dim memories
As now when seems
once more
The goal in sight again
- Mulder

For the first time I feel time like a heartbeat
The seconds pumping in my breast like a reckoning
The numinous mysteries that once seemed so distant and unreal
Threatening clarity in the presence of a truth
Entertained not in youth,
But only in its passage.
I feel these words as if their meaning were weight being lifted from me
Knowing that you will read them and share my burden
As I have come to trust no other
That you should know my heart,
Look into it finding there the memory and experience that belong to you,
That are you
Is a comfort to me now
As I feel the tethers loose
And the prospects darken for the continuance of a journey
That began not so long ago
And which began again with a faith shaken
And strengthened by your convictions
If not for which I might never have been so strong now
As I cross to face you and look at you
incomplete
Hoping that you will forgive me
for not making the rest of the journey with you.
- the woman he knew


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bible Interpretation

A while ago I came across something new to me ... the Jefferson Bible. Wikipedia writes ...

The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was an attempt by Thomas Jefferson to glean the teachings of Jesus from the Christian Gospels. Jefferson wished to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations .... Miracles and references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus are notably absent from the Jefferson Bible. The Bible begins with an account of Jesus's birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. The work ends with the words: "Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed." There is no mention of the resurrection.

When I first read about it, I have to admit I was a bit offended - hey, the miracles are my favorite part :-) - but then I realized that Jefferson had only done in writing what I actually do in my head. I too delete parts of the Bible that I find unbelievable or upsetting, by ignoring them, and this brings up questions addressed rtecently on both Darius' and Matthew's blogs ... are all parts of the Bible holy and inspired, or only some parts, maybe none? Is it valid to accept the parts you like and ignaore the parts you don't?

To help answer these questions, let's take a trip to the New Testament Gateway and look under the keyword Hermeneutics. Yikes - link overload :-). I picked this site - Biblical Hermeneutics - The Science of Interpreting the Bible - and it seems very informative.

But truth be told, it looks like it will take me quite a while to make sense of the subject of hermeneutics (if ever). In the meantime, a possible method of interpretation is to hold the God found in the scriptural passage up to the God known in prayer, using discerment.


- Thomas Jefferson's " Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth", 1904


Friday, July 07, 2006

Suicide

Sigh - here we are in the other Dead Zone - nope, I don't mean the TV series, as opposed to the movie, I'm speaking of the dearth of commentary in blogworld lately. Perhaps this isa good time to post about a subject no one really likes to think about ... suicide.

I'm not really sure why suicide is considered a sin (maybe someone will tell me :-), unless it's due to that idea that our lives belong to God and we're just renting them out, so to speak. But leaving that theological question behind for the moment, it might be illunimating to check out some facts ...

Wikipedia writes that more people kill themselves each yar than are murdered, or killed in wars, or die of AIDs, and the numbers are probably higher than reported, due to religious and legal complications. More men sucessfully kill themselves, although more women make attempts at suicide. Whites are more likely to kill themselves than other races, and most people commit suicide in the spring and summer. Suicide is not always an act of despair and selfishness ...

Sometimes it's committed as a form of protest or defience. As Wikipedia writes ... In the 1960s, Buddhist monks, most notably Thích Quảng Đức, in South Vietnam gained Western praise in their protests against President Ngô Đình Diệm by burning themselves to death. Similar events were reported in eastern Europe, such as the death of Jan Palach following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

It's also committed sometime as an act of sacrifice in war, in an attempt to save others ... For instance, soldiers under cannon fire at the Battle of Waterloo took fatal hits rather than duck and place their comrades in harm's way. The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War.

But I'd guess that most of the time, despair and an inward-gazing have a lot to do with it ... illness, a perceived "difference" from others, financial problems, old age, loneliness. Even those illuminaries you'd think would be immune to such worries sometimes subcomb ... ranked among the famous people who've committed sucide are writer Virginia Woolf, missionary Minnie Vautrin, artist Vincent van Gogh, and psychiatrist Sigmund Freud

St. Ignatius of Loyola was tempted by thoughts of suicide (read more) and St Thérèse of Lisieux, in her illness, is said to have considered suicidal .... "What a grace it is to have faith! If I didn’t have faith I would have committed suicide without hesitating a moment." (The Tablet).

One of my favorite writes, Robert E. Howard, apparently did not have the resources granted Ignatius and Thérèse, for he took his own life at age 30, upon hearing that his mother would never recover from a coma. Here's one of his earliest poems ...

The Tempter

Something tapped me on the shoulder
Something whispered, "Come with me,
"Leave the world of men behind you,
"Come where care may never find you,
"Come and follow, let me bind you
"Where, in that dark, silent sea,
"Tempest of the world n'er rages;
"There to dream away the ages,
"Heedless of Time's turning pages,
"Only, come with me."

"Who are you?" I asked the phantom,
"I am rest from Hate and Pride.
"I am friend to king and beggar,
I am Alpha and Omega,
"I was councillor to Hagar
"But men call me Suicide."
I was weary of tide breasting,
Weary of the world's behesting,
And I lusted for the resting
As a lover for his bride.

And my soul tugged at its moorings
And it whispered, "Set me free.
"I am weary of this battle,
"Of this world of human cattle,
"All this dreary noise and prattle,
"This you owe to me."
Long I sat and long I pondered,
On the life that I had squandered,
O'er the paths that I had wandered
Never free.

In a shadow panorama
Passed life's struggles and its fray,
And my soul tugged with new vigor,
Huger grew the phantom's figure,
As I slowly pressed the trigger,
Saw the world fade swift away.
Through the fogs old time came striding,
Radiant clouds were 'bout me riding,
As my soul went gliding, gliding,
From the shadow into day.

***

Lord ... remember ... those whose faith is known to you alone.
- Eucharistic Prayer


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hymn ... a poem by A.R. Ammons

Hymn

I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
coelenterates
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves

- A.R. Ammons


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day



No, not the holiday, the movie :-)

It's one most people have seen, yet still I cannot stop myself from taking this opportunity to write about it, for it has it all ... creepy aliens, government conspiracies (Area 51), romance, Apple computers (you guys aren't PC users, are you?), pathos and self-sacrifice, and a lot of actors I like ... Bull Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and best of all, Brent Spiner (Data!). as a slightly mad scientist.

Wikipedia writes ...

ndependence Day (or ID4) is an American science fiction movie about an attempted alien takeover of Earth .... The world is in shock on July 2 as an alien ship stated to be about one quarter the mass of the moon and over 550 kilometres in diameter enters the Earth's orbit and deploys several smaller ships, each one over fifteen miles in diameter, that settle over many of the world's major cities. Using advanced technology, the aliens destroy these cities along with millions of people. Conventional missiles and nuclear weapons are useless against them, as the alien ships are strongly shielded by impenetrable force fields. The President of the United States, a veteran fighter pilot of the Gulf War, leads the human resistance from Area 51, where the military has kept an alien fighter spacecraft that crash-landed in the 1950s, to ultimate victory over the invading aliens. The movie climaxes on July 4 as the humans use the alien fighter to infiltrate the mothership, activating a computer virus to disrupt the aliens' shields, and sneaking a nuclear missile aboard. The disruption of the shields opens a window of opportunity for humans to strike back and destroy the smaller alien ships and fighter craft. During the counterattack, an American volunteer pilot flies his jet into the path of an alien ship as it is deploying its primary beam weapon, which causes it to crash. Task forces around the world use the same tactic to destroy the rest of the alien battleships, ultimately saving Earth.

The movie did not get good reviews ... it was a bit jingoistic and obvious ... and Roger Ebert's assessment of the film was not pretty ...

... Independence Day'' is not just an inheritor of the 1950s flying saucer genre, it's a virtual retread ....Representing the human race here are not only David the techhead and the president, but also assorted blacks, Jews, Arabs, Brits, exotic dancers, homosexuals, cute kids, generals, drunken cropdusters, tight-lipped defense secretaries and `The McLaughlin Group.' There is not a single character in the movie who doesn't wear an invisible label .... As the president readies Earth's response, it is clear much will depend on a jerry-built solution by David, whom Goldblum plays as a hemming and hawing genius. His plan, after he devises it, depends on fighter ace Steven Hiller (Will Smith) for its delivery. But what Goldblum comes up with, I cannot reveal. No, I insist. I only observe that it is a wonder these aliens have traveled across uncounted light-years of space and yet have never thought of a computer virus protection program. (My theory is that any aliens who could be taken in by this particular plan probably arrived here after peddling across space on bicycles.)
- read Ebert's whole review here

Oh well, flawed as the movie might have been, it was still fun and didn't take itself too seriously. And that factor does matter in aliens-taking-over-the-world movies ... think back to Tom Cruise and The War of the Worlds and you'll know what I mean :-)


- Brent Spiner, Bill Pullman and James Rebhorn


Monday, July 03, 2006

Too Deep For Words

A while ago, Fr. Marsh had a very informative post on his blog about the prayer method of Lectio Divina (read his post here). It sounded interesting, so I searched for a book on the subject. The one I ended up getting is Too Deep For Words - Rediscovering Lectio Divina by Thelma Hall r.c. Some of what she said I agreed with, some I didn't, but as she's the expert :-) I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. One thing I did like was the list of scriptural passages in the back. Here are my favorites for contemplation from her book ...

John 1: 35-39 -
Jesus ... saw them following and said, "What do you want?" They answered, "Where do you live?" He replied, "Come and see."

Luke 4: 16-22 -
"He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free ..."

Luke 7: 11-17 -
He went to a town called Nain ... there was a dead man being carried out, the only son of his mother ... the Lord ... felt sorry for her and said, "Don't cry."

Luke 15: 11-32 -
(Jesus said) "While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms, and kissed him."

Matthew 15: 21-28 -
... a Canaanite woman ... started shouting ... "take pity on me" ... he said not a word in answer ... "Lord," she said, "help me." Jesus answered ... "Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted."

John 20: 11-20 -
... Mary was standing outside near the tomb, weeping ... Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"

John 21: 1-14 -
... there stood Jesus on the shore ... there was some bread there and a charcoal fire with fish ... Jesus said ... "Come and have breakfast."


- The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Jacopo Bassano


Dr. Robert Ritter and the Roma

Well, it seems that everyone who once visited my blog has either gone on vacation, given up on me, or simply died :-) The silver lining to this cloud, is that today I can post an old blog entry from a year ago and no one will notice ...


- An 1852 Wallachian poster advertising an auction of Roma slaves.

Dr. Robert Ritter and the Roma - Saturday, June 18, 2005

During the last week, I've visited blogs with discussions of the movie The Passion of the Christ. One question often asked was why anyone would want to focus on the negative part of Jesus' life - the suffering and the dying - instead of the positive - his teachings, the resurrection. Human nature being what it is, we're capable of both the very good and the very bad. To focus on the good gives us courage and hope. But we cannot look away from the bad, even though it makes us uncomfortable. To resist the evil that can befall, we first have to acknowledge it exists ... one example of such an evil is Dr. Robert Ritter and The Devouring he helped to create ...


- Ritter

Ritter was a psychiatrist and a "racial scientist" who worked for the Nazi regime ... his purpose was to produce justification for the isolation and destruction of the Roma/Sinti (Gypsy) population. His efforts were instrumental to the Porajmos ... literally "the Devouring" ... their planned extermination.

Before I write more of Ritter and his genocidal work, let me say a few words about the Roma people ... more commonly known as "Gypsies". The Roma (and the closely related Sinti), who can nowdays be found in America and most of Europe, were a nomadic people originating in an area of northern India,. Their migration began around the year 1000AD, and they spread throughout Europe over the next five to six centuries. The cultures through which the Roma/Sinti traveled were often wary of them ... they were thought to be theives, occultists, kidnappers ... and there were efforts to either forcibly assimilate them or, more often, eradicate them. An example ...

... A practice of "Gypsy hunting" was quite common - a game hunt very similar to fox hunting. Even as late as 1835, there was a Gypsy hunt in Jutland (Denmark) that "brought in a bag of over 260 men, women and children" ...
- Donald Kenrick and Grattan Puxon, The Destiny of Europe's Gypsies (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1972)


- a Gypsy being arrested -

Persecution of the Roma was common throughout Europe but not really institutionalized until the 20th century under the Third Reich. Now we can get back to Robet Ritter. With Germany's hunger for "racial purity", the Roma posed a thorny problem ... as descendants of the ancient Aryan invaders of India, they were in theory as pure as any German. But Nazi racialist, Hans Günther, proposed that the blood of the Roma had been tainted by their intermingling with "inferior racees" during their migrations.

The Racial Hygiene and Population Biology Research Unit was established in 1936 and headed by Dr. Robert Ritter and his assistant Eva Justin. The purpose of the unit was to conduct an in-depth study of the "Gypsy problem" ... essentially to find a connection between Roam heredity and criminality ... and to make recommendations accordingly. Interviews and physical examinations were exhaustive. Ritter's closest associate, Eva Justin, conducted research on Gypsy children raised apart from their families. At the conclusion of her study, these children were deported to Auschwitz, where all but a few were killed.

We had to sit on a chair one after the other, and Dr. Ritter compared the eyes of the children and questioned them; his colleague noted everything down. We had to open our mouths and our jaws were measured with a strange instrument, then our nostrils, the roots of the nose, the distance between the eyes, eye color, eyebrows, ears inside and out, the nape of the neck, the throat, our hands - every single thing there was to measure.
- Josef Reinhardt as quoted in Romani Rose, The Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma (Heidelberg: Documentary and Cultural Centre of German Sinti and Roma, 1995)

In 1940, Ritter decided that the Gypsies were a "primitive" people, incapable of adapting to normal cvilized life. His research showed, he said, that 90% of Gypsies were of tainted blood and that one could be considered in this group if they had one or two Gypsies among their grandparents or if two or more of their grandparents were part-Gypsy.

The Gypsy question can only be solved when the main body of asocial and good-for-nothing Gypsy individuals of mixed blood is collected together in large labour camps and kept working there, and when the further breeding of this population is stopped once and for all.
- Quote from Ritter, in a January 1940 progress report. [page 260,. The Gypsies, by Angus Fraser, Blackwell, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA, '92]

On November 15, 1943, Himmler ordered that Gypsies and "part-Gypsies" were to be put ... on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps.


- Gypsy arrivals in the Belzec death camp await instructions -

I myself lost about thirty relatives in Auschwitz. Both of my grandmothers died there. An aunt with ten children was there. Only two children survived. Another aunt with five children was also in Auschwitz. None of them survived the camp. Another aunt was gassed at the very end. My father literally starved to death within the first several months. My older sister contracted typhus and died from it in 1943. Naturally her malnutrition and hunger played a great role. Then my brother died, my youngest brother. He was 13 years old. He had to carry heavy rocks until he became emaciated down to a skeleton. My mother died several months afterwards. They all starved.
- Elisabeth Guttenberger as quoted in State Museum, Memorial 1498.

Historians estimate that by the time the Nazi regime fell, Germany and its allies had killed between 25 and 50 percent of all European Roma ... of the approximately one million Roma living in Europe before the war, up to 220,000 were dead.

After the war, Dr. Robert Ritter gave up his research to the Bavarian criminal police, who continues harrassing the Roma. From late 1944 through 1946, Ritter taught criminal biology at the University of Tübingen. In 1947 he joined the Frankfurt Health Office as a children's physician. While there, he employed Eva Justin as a psychologist. Efforts to bring him to trial for his part in the Roma genocide ended when he committed suicide in 1950.

Though Robert Ritter and the Nazis are gone, life can still be hard for the Roma. According to Wikipedia ...

To this day, there are still clashes between the Roma and the sedentary population around them. Common complaints are that Roma steal and live off social welfare and residents often reject Roma encampments. Where possible, many Roma continue their nomadic lifestyle travelling in caravans (small trailer homes), but in many situations in Eastern Europe, they live in depressed squatter communities with very high unemployment.


- Irish Travelers and their caravans in England -


****

I ended up researching this topic thanks to the discussions on blogs about The Passion of the Christ ... someone there mentioned the Roma ... though I can't change what happened to the Roma/Sinti, I can witness it and name it wrong.

Timeline of Roma History

Get more info at the RomaNews Society

For more information on Irish Travellers", see Wikipedia

Check out The Voice of Roma


“Who has touched my clothes?”

The gospel reading for yesterday (Luke 8:45 / Mark 5:30) tells of a woman with a hermorrhage who is healed by touching Jesus' clothing. In The Questions of Jesus, by Jesuit peace activist John Dear SJ, , he writes about the question Jesus asks in this reading... "Who has touched my clothes?". It's a little long, but I think it's worth the read. Here it is below ...

*****

Who Touched Me?

There was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for a dozen years. Doctors had been no help; in fact, they had made her condition worse. She had spent all her money on remedies, to no avail. As a result, the woman was declared unclean by society. When Jesus passed by on some important business with a wealthy synagogue official, and the crowd presses in on him, the woman comes up behind him and touches the tassel hanging from his cloak. "If I just touch him," she thinks, "I will be cured."

Instantly, the woman knows she has been cured. But she does not expect what happens next. Jesus stops in his tracks, turns around, and asks, "Who touched me? Who has touched my clothes?"

"You see how the crowd is pressing upon you," his disciples point out, "yet you ask 'Who touched me?' Everyone's touching you!" But Jesus feels the power go out from him. "Who touched me?" he asks, looking around.

The woman is caught. She hoped to be healed anonymously, without interrupting Jesus, without causing a scene, without anyone finding out. She knows she is an "unclean woman", ostracized by righteous holy men. If Jesus knows she has touched him, he might yell at her, like every other man, for making him unclean too.

But it's too late. The woman has broken the law and must face the consequences. So she approaches Jesus "in fear and trembling, falls down before him, and tells the whole truth."

What happens next is as astonishing as the miraculous cure. Jesus looks at the woman and, rather than scolding her, he affirms her, loves her, and gives her back her dignity. "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

Jesus feels the power go out of him, but he does not want to be a magician. Rather, he desires a personal relationship with each one of us, with every human being who ever lived. He is not some magic impersonal god, a healing machine. He is a human being who wants to look us in the eye, love us, and be loved by us. He wants to know us as his daughters and sons. He wants to save each one of us individually, with his own personal touch, so that we might live with him intimately in peace forever.

Jesus practiced what Dorothy Day called gospel personalism. In light of his radical personalism, his question makes sense. In asking "Who touched me?" he wants to know who is close to him, who wants him, who is being healed by him. Over time, Jesus turns away from the crowds and moves closer toward each one of us individually, calling each of us by name, announcing that we are his friends. He is learning the hard lesson that crowds can quickly turn into mobs, and mobs can cause riots. Here, in this moment, Jesus sees that the crowd will eventually turn on him and shout out "Crucify him, crucify him!" So, aware of his own impending death, he looks for the touch of faith, hope, and love from us. He looks for our individual response, and he intends to heal and save us, one person at a time.

Jesus' question leads us to ask some of our own: Have I ever touched Jesus? Do I want to touch him with the same determination as the woman with the hemorrhage? Dare I touch Jesus, risk having him find out, and turn toward me in my brokenness and weakness? Do I want Jesus to know that I touched him? Am I willing to enter that intimate relationship with him that he desires with me?

At some point, each one of us has touched Jesus. Mother Teresa says we touch Jesus in the poor and the homeless. Martin Luther King Jr. says we touch Jesus in the struggle for justice and racial equality. Philip Berrigan says we touch Jesus in the pursuit of nuclear disarmament. Don Helder Camara says we touch Jesus in every act of compassion. Mahatma Gandhi says we touch Jesus in the life of nonviolence. Thomas Merton says we touch Jesus in our contemplative prayer and solitude. Dorothy Day says we touch Jesus when we welcome and house the homeless. Oscar Romero says we touch Jesus when we liberate the oppressed. Henri Nouwen says we touch Jesus in one another whenever we recognize each other as a beloved daughter or son of God.

When we touch Jesus, he turns around and asks us to identify ourselves, tell him our stories, and get to know him. He heals us - but he wants more. He needs our companionship, our presence, our love. He wants to be our brother, our companion, our friend.

The gospel invites us to tell him, as did the heroic woman, when we touch him, how he is healing us, and who we are. If we dare, we will not be disappointed.


- Christ addressing a Kneeling Woman by Paolo Veronese


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Via Negativa

I've just read na interesting review of a book about Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas. The book is The Man Who Went Into the West: the life of R.S. Thomas by Byron Rogersis ... read the review at the Tablet. Below is one of Thomas' poems, mentioned in the review ...

Via Negativa

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.