First Wednesday in Advent

Moses on the Mountain of God (1991) by Albert Herbert.

“Our alternative to dehumanizing, scientific, economic objectivity is not sentimentality or shapeless love. It is objective love—a dispassionate passion. It is the passion of God for all people—regardless of habit or custom, race or disposition, gender or economic status. It is a daring and brave position, but it is one that sides with God who stretches our hearts and minds this Advent to see the stranger, the dispossessed, and the outcast, and invites us to love. O God, enlarge and warm the caverns of our hearts this Advent.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine … And the Lord will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations.”—Isaiah 25: 6-7

The God who creates and destroys is fundamentally ambiguous to our human mind. It is an assault on our attempt to create moral order and coherency in the world. It is an assault on our need to control.

The mountain of God is sometimes compared to a nursing breast. The people are entranced by it. It is their whole world. It provides essential nourishment. They can’t live without it. They are completely vulnerable and dependent on this mountain. It is this dependency that creates fear. What if the life-giver becomes the life-taker? This fear may then generate separation and, eventually, individuality.

It is this process, which is repeated many times through one’s life, which makes us distinct and unique.

How can you learn to embrace creation and destruction, life and death, certainty and doubt?

Breathe in. Breathe out. It’s Ad……vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

Abbot Philip: Why Being Regular is Good for Your Prayer Life

Abbot Phillip
Abbot Phillip

Abbot Philip is serving at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico. I find his “notes” very helpful. He writes:

“One of the aspects of my life is that often I cannot keep any kind of regular schedule. For sure, I keep the external schedule in the monastery when I am home, but even within that schedule, there are aspects that simply do not work for me. I love to have a short nap after Vigils, but often that is impossible because of something that must be done at that time. After Holy Mass I like to be quiet and still but that is not always possible when brothers come to knock at my door. After Terce I try to go for a walk, but sometimes there are other appointments that get in the way.I like to try to get my regular work (answering letters, mostly, but sometimes working on music for the community) done so that I can have a nap after lunch. That time after lunch should be sacred for all monks, but there are still times when it must be give up for the sake of seeing someone. And so my days go by.

I often think of myself as one who works to have a regular order in his life, but who most often must respond to the exigencies of whatever is happening. When my trips are also added into this mix, it is easy to see why all I can do is work towards order in my life. There is always a basic order but it never is able to be lived for long periods of time. Sometimes I long for a type of work where I could clock in and clock out and no one could bother me afterwards. Each of us has his or her own life.

Most of us have some order in our lives. Many live as I do: seeking order and sometimes finding it. Why order? Because with order we are able to focus our inner energies toward prayer and towards that deep relationship with God that is at the heart of any Christian life.

The ultimate order, of course, is simply to live in God and to do all for God. For most of us, that requires an inner effort, both of mind and of will. In order to focus ourselves, daily order can be helpful. There are people who are completely ordered externally with no thought of God. Thus order is not a guarantee to think of God and to live for God alone. But it can help. For myself, when I let myself long for the Lord, I find that I want to put more order in my life so that I can give more time and attention to Him.

At other times, I find myself so caught up just in surviving and getting things done that I let my longing for the Lord simmer and almost become extinct, even though I seem almost always aware of His presence. So for me, both order and longing for the Lord are elements that help me stay on the path of the Lord. There are wonderful moments on the path and there are times when it is just difficult to keep walking. That is a normal part of my life. I rejoice when things are going well and I struggle when they are not. I continue to seek to put order in my life, no matter how often it eludes me. Most of all, I try to allow my heart to long for Him who is the only meaning of my life.”–Abbot Philip

Read more from Abbot Philip here.

G.C. Waldrep: ‘A Poem is an Ark’

“A poem is an ark. It is a vessel that carries a message across a void. And–this is the crucial difference, I think–carries that message to an audience that will include people who do not know the poet, whom the poet does not know. Perhaps not now. Perhaps not ever.

Prayer is that which conveys a message to God, who is either known or knowing, more or less by definition. Poetry is that which conveys a message to a stranger.”–G.C. Waldrep

From “Messages to Strangers,” (A God in the House, Tupelo, 2012)

Poetry: ‘If There Must Be A God In the House’

Less and Less Human, O Savage Spirit
By Wallace Stevens

If there must be a god in the house, must be,
Saying things in the rooms and on the stair,

Let him move as the sunlight moves on the floor,
Or moonlight, silently, as Plato’s ghost

Or Aristotle’s skeleton. Let him hang out
His stars on the wall. He must dwell quietly.

He must be incapable of speaking, closed,
As those are: as light, for all its motion, is;

As color, even the closest to us, is;
As shapes, though they portend us, are.

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.

It is the human that demands his speech
From beasts or from the incommunicable mass.

If there must be a god in the house, let him be one
That will not hear us when we speak: a coolness,

A vermilioned nothingness, any stick of the mass
Of which we are too distantly a part.

Excerpted from The Voice That is Great Within Us (edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1983)

Thomas Merton: Vocation is Working with God

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and [children] of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in His creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth.”–Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (New Directions Books, 1961, p 32)

Teresa of Avila: Is Prayer Just ‘Spending Time with God’?

Sculpture of Teresa in Avila, Spain.

I was drinking my coffee this morning at the local coffee shop while reading the daily lectionary. Along with Matthew 13–where the disciples beg Jesus to let them peek at the answers at the back of the book (“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”)–there was this confounding quote from Teresa of Avila. Five hundred years later and she’s still able to make me set down my coffee in surprise!

“Prayer is not just spending time with God. It is partly that–but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us–unmasks us–strips us–indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads to complacency, but needles us–makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge, to true humility.”–Teresa of Avila

For a delightful short video series on the life of Teresa of Avila, check out Sister Donna on YouTube.

Goldman Sachs CEO “Richer than God” and Moving In on Deity’s Job

Lloyd Blankfein
Lloyd Blankfein

My ears perked up this morning when I heard talk on the radio about investment gurus doing “God’s work” and a journalist calling for Christians to rise up against usury and abuse of the poor. Wow!

In a London Times interview with John Arlidge, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, defended the bank’s massive profits, saying Goldman is, quote, “doing God’s work.”  The four largest firms—Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase—took in $22.5 billion in profits through September, according to MarketWatch. The top six banks set aside $112 billion for salaries and bonuses over the same period.

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman interviewed former-LA Times journalist Robert Scheer this morning on this topic. Here’s quote from Scheer below:

It’s interesting that he should say he’s “doing God’s work,” Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs. And my goodness, if Scripture is clear on anything, it’s condemnation of those who take advantage of the poor. You know, after all, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. Scripture is devastating in its condemnation of usury, the immorality of usury.

Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer

And yet, you mentioned Chris Dodd is trying to get a bill passed that would cap interest rates. You know, where is the Christian Right? Where are the Christians? Where are the Jews, for that matter? Or the Muslims? At least the Muslims, in their religious practice, don’t believe in interest as a principle, but the idea that we’re jacking up credit cards to 30, 35—this is loan sharking. And we can’t even get a bill passed through Congress that would cap interest payments.

The other thing is, their rationalization is they’re somehow saving the economy. It’s the old blackmail thing. They ruined the economy; they got the legislation, the radical deregulation they wanted, that permitted them to become too big to fail—Citigroup and these companies; and then they turn around and say, “If you don’t throw all this money at us, the economy is going to go into the Great Depression.”

But they haven’t solved the main problems. Mortgage foreclosures this month are higher than they’ve been in ten months. We have the commercial housing market exploding, you know, apartment building rentals exploding, going into mortgages. And so, you know, they are not dealing with the fundamentals. What has happened is an incredibly expensive band-aid was put on this. And these people don’t even have—they’re not even embarrassed.–TruthDig’s Robert Sheer

Robert Scheer is editor at Truthdig.com. His books include The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America and Playing President: My Close Encounters with Nixon, Carter, Bush I, Reagan, and Clinton–and How They Did Not Prepare Me for George W. Bush. Scheer’s latest column is called Where Is the Community Organizer We Elected?

I was also interested to note that in John Arlidge’s London Times profile on Goldman Sachs that CEO Lloyd Blankfein said, “I know I could slit my wrists and people would cheer.” Another GS staffer said, “We don’t club baby seals. We club babies.”

A Playful Hallelujah Chorus

LOC12PLAYFLAC1I was very encouraged and humbled by the blog post over at Sighs & Hallelujahs responding to my August Sojourners column On the Seventh Day, God Played. My thanks go out to him. I need a daily reminder on what God intends for our life and love.

Have a read:

Last week I read an article in Sojourners magazine by Rose Marie Berger titled “On the Seventh Day, God Played.”  Just by the title of the article you get a sense of her main points: that we don’t rest and play enough; and that we need to incorporate play into our lives more if we want to imitate God.

Granted, I was on vacation when I read this — a vacation that was filled with rest and play. But, the point remains pertinent to me tonight as I feel like writing a blog post is the final thing to check-off my to do list for the weekend. The concept that play is holy and necessary is freeing. You mean I don’t always have to be productive? …

As Berger notes in her article, Christians often fail the worst at incorporating play into their lifestyles. “The ‘Protestant work ethic’,” she says, “has left us with a slight religious distaste for fun.” So, some of us have that working against us.

But, I find that I often have another thing working against me as a man born without arms. The best I can describe the feeling is that I feel like I live life “working from a deficit.” In other words, due to my disability I often feel like I need to put in more effort (or play less) in order to make up for what I lack physically. I type slower than some others, so I need to work extra hours to make up for that. I need your help to replace a light bulb in my condo, so I do all I can to help you in other ways to make up for it. You may think less of me due to my lack of arms, so I’ll make sure my car, house or work space is clean in order to impress you. Sounds crazy, huh? When you feel less than those around you, you’ll do interesting things to compensate for it.

Read his whole post here.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture

nguyenV. Henry T. Nguyen is an Angeleno and a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who has “pretty much become a pacifist,” he says. He’s got his doctorate in New Testament and is an adjunct prof at several schools in Southern California. (He blogs at Punctuated Life.)

He’s written a great piece in response to the Pew study on Christians and torture (See Does Wearing a Cross Make You a Torture Supporter?). It was originally posted at Religion Dispatches.

I’m printing the whole thing here because I think it’s an important read.

St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture
By V. Henry T. Nguyen

The recent Pew findings—that churchgoers, especially white evangelical Protestants, are more likely to believe that torture can be justified—have caused many commentators to wonder whether particular forms of Christian theology engender an acceptance of the use of torture.

In a recent article on Religion Dispatches, Sarah Sentilles suggests that Christian theologies and images of Christ’s crucifixion (essentially is an act of torture) have influenced some Christian communities’ understanding of torture as salvific, necessary, and justified. This view of torture is especially fueled by what is known as atonement theology: the view that Jesus’ death provided reparation for humanity’s sins against God.

So what would a Christian theological response against torture look like?

Most Christian theologies are rooted in the writings of Paul, who is particularly celebrated this year by the Catholic church on the bimillenial anniversary of the apostle’s birth; Paul provides the earliest interpretation of the meaning of the crucified Christ. People often forget, or are not aware, that nowhere in the gospels does Jesus himself explain the meaning of his own suffering on the cross. But Paul does.

And I believe that if we were to bring Paul into our current dialogue about whether Christians should support the use of torture, his response would be a resolute “No!”

Continue reading “St. Paul the Pacifist: A Christian Response to Torture”

Cesar Vallejo’s “God”

vallejo1While proofing a 1989 article in Sojourners by Daniel Berrigan, I came across this poem by Cesar Vallejo. Berrigan referenced it in relation to Isaiah 49.

Vallejo was a Peruvian poet. He was born in 1892 and published his first collection of poems – Los Heraldos Negros – in 1918. This translation of “Dios” is by Robert Bly.

God
by César Vallejo

I feel that God is traveling
so much in me, with the dusk and the sea.
With him we go along together. It is getting dark.
With him we get dark. All orphans . . .

But I feel God. And it even seems
that he sets aside some good color for me.
He is kind and sad, like those that care for the sick;
he whispers with sweet contempt like a lover’s:
his heart must give him great pain.

Oh, my God, I’ve only just come to you,
today I love so much in this twilight; today
that in the false balance of some breasts
I weigh and weep for a frail Creation.

And you, what do you weep for . . . you, in love
with such an immense and whirling breast. . . .
I consecrate you, God, because you love so much;
because you never smile; because your heart
must all the time give you great pain.