Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Christ Raising the Widow's Son at Nain

Luke 7: 11-17
(Nain: pronouced NAY-EEN)

The Lord approached the village of Nain,
and raised up the son of the widow who was grieved.
And so the King of Glory, who rules the sun and stars,
summons to life the lifeless one.

Here Christ has advanced upon Satan's Empire;
raising the boy in tender love.
Let us join the vast crowd, exultant in awe,
and glorify God, singing of Christ's triumph.

When the Lord saw the boy's sorrowing mother
he shared her sadness and said, Don't weep.
In the world's tearful mourning, let us hurry to Christ,
who comforts humanity; consolation in our grief.

At the threshold to the village Christ restored the nameless boy
and returned him to his mother...No more fear.
Let us eagerly welcome Christ across the threshold of our lives,
that he might manifest this power and elevate our minds.

Let us be glad for this widow whose only son was restored -
in losing her boy, consigned to poverty and loneliness.
O Christ our Resurrection, witness the bankruptcy of our lives,
and fill the emptiness with your light.

Let us heed that the Lord touched the dead man's bier,
forbidden to maintain ritual purity.
And so we glorify God who has not disdained our world,
but entered in, to open human hearts.

When the Lord of Life said, Young man, wake up,
the dead sat up and began to speak.
Let us emulate this man, glorifying Christ in our speech;
bearing witness to God's en-livening grace.

As the Lord gave the young man back to his mother,
we can share this family's joy!
And so, let us be returned to one another,
praising Christ who does not leave us in loss.

Let us join the crowd who witnessed this wonder,
crying out, God has visited his people.
Yes, let us each announce God' visitation in our lives
and spread the awed-view of Christ the Restorer!

Raising the boy at Nain, death's darkness is overcome,
joy is once again; relationships are widened.
And so, let us trade now what is useless, old and failed,
and welcome Christ, God's face and heart of love.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gospel Praises ~ the Christ-Center ~ Wedding Feast

 IN SEPTEMBER OF 2008 I WROTE  Gospel Praises while staying  in a hermitage at the edge of a forest on the property of the Monastic Community of Bethlehem on Monte Corona in Umbertide, Italy.

Gospel Praises are short poem-like verses that grow out of a meditative reading of the gospels. The little verses are called megalynaria - Greek for praises. In Latin we'd call them laudifications. I suspect that when composed in middle-eastern languages they could be chanted easily. Not knowing what those melodies might be,  I've chosen instead to compose the verses, following the four line pattern, with only a rough or suggested sense of rhythm.

The first two lines focus on some happy aspect of the gospel, while the second two lines share my own sense of the more or what's underneath for us.

The new pope is speaking to us in unvarnished language. It is clear that he sees we are losing our Christ-Center as a Church - that parochial concerns and religious polemic are holding center stage. At times he has laid the problem at the feet of the clergy who he says can become "collectors of antiques and novelties" and who need to "get out of the sacristy." He has even used startling language, as when he told the priests of Rome to get out and "smell the sheep." This suggests that he sees priests as largely disconnected from people, using arcane language and having lost their sense of Christ-mission.

Everything the priest offers should help people to pray contemplatively. There are three supports to that end here: The gospel accounts themselves which will require that we pick up a bible and look again at the text, though we may swear on the proverbial stack of bibles that we are already sufficiently familiar with the story. Then we are invited  to consider the icon which accompanies each text. We're reminded again that it is said of Saint Kateri Tekawitha, "She prayed more with her eyes than with her lips."  And then lastly, the little verses themselves, read slowly enough to understand but also to feel some sense of rhythm or movement.

When we enter a room which is totally dark, we often fumble around, anxiously searching for a wall switch, or even worse, we bump around in the dark gingerly  feeling our way for a lamp. These gospel praises are not like that at all. They are simply humble attempts to peak under the veil which surrounds the accounts of Jesus' teaching and wonders. We might each compose our own.

The Marriage at Cana
John 2: 1-11

Here we see Jesus seated quite comfortably at the wedding table. Mary is on her feet, perhaps whispering into Jesus' ear, "They've run out of wine." The bride and groom are seated at the head of the table. Icons often condense several aspects of the event into one, and so even as Mary speaks to Jesus, the server is busy filling the large, clay, purification jars with the water that will become wine. The other two older men at the table represent the many other guests. Perhaps one or both of them is a religious official who won't be happy about the coming miracle, as it will indicate that somehow the religion which requires the jars has run dry. Saint John doesn't call this changing of water to wine at Cana  a miracle, but a sign.

Though the Savior's hour had not yet come,
he revealed his power, changing water into wine.
And through the intercession of his all-good Mother,
the disciples accepted Christ:  God become man.

The Lord and Savior changed water into wine,
gladdening the guests of the wedding feast at Cana.
Now Jesus changes lives through baptismal waters,
to be like wine, bringing Christ-joy to others.

On the third day, among invited guests,
Christ displayed his glory, changing water into wine.
On the third day he'll be Resurrected over darkness and death.
Lord God, my mouth is full of your praise. (Psalm 71:8)

The Mother of Jesus: in attendance when her Son
first revealed his glory in the working of this sign.
She'll be present again, at the end, beneath the cross.
First disciple of humility and love.

The old method of ablutions is shown to be lacking
as the jars are empty and one short of seven.
Now in Christ we encounter God's purifying forgiveness:
let us praise him who changes scarlet-sins to white-as-snow.

Let us see in Christ the missing seventh jar of water,
Jesus, who quenches the human thirst for God.
Joy in Christ, breeze of love,
who gladdened  Cana-guests with so marvelous a gift.

Let us be obedient servants and follow the Lord's command,
presenting ourselves to Jesus in need of transformation.
Let us praise him and be thankful,
for he takes us from what is below to what is above.

When the waiter-in-charge tasted the water made wine,
he had no idea where it had come from.
But we, recognizing the source of wonder and gift in our lives,
praise Christ who bestows God's abundant mercies!

Let us emulate those privileged servants
and obey Christ at once:
Now, fill the jar of my life to the brim, Lord:
recreating me in joy, dignity and hope.

When Jesus arrived as a guest at Cana,
he gave a sign of God's wedding-intimacy with us.
Now praise Christ the groom and guest of humankind
whose presence and power dispel emptiness and fear.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Returning To The Father - Praying in the Holy Trinity

CONSCIOUSLY or  unconsciously  we all choose a life-way. In Rublev's Trinity the Father looks at the Spirit. The Son points to the Spirit. The way to God begins and is carried out in the Spirit. God is not an eternal vision but entrance into a dynamic which promises full and fresh life.

Look again, even the mountain and the tree (the terebinth of Mamre) bend or lean towards the Father and his house which is open and welcoming. "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places," Jesus said. Everything leads to the Father's heart - the Spirit, the Son, the elements the plants, the light itself!

And I'm invited too - and every person inhabiting this planet. This means if I take up my place in the opening at my side of the altar, not only will I meet God, but I will meet all the others. This may come as a shock to many people, including many religious people, who think of their religion or relationship as private.

The circles of the Trinity are ever-widening and expanding as my awareness of the others increases - as my heart opens and my sense of active solidarity with others grows. And then nothing can ever be the same. A Sunday TV called The Real Brazil reports that Brazil is the new global competitor in producing military aircraft. Do we really need more war planes? When I realize who is sitting alongside me from this planet, in the Trinitarian Circle, I begin to raise questions like this.

Indeed, one religious sister takes the newspaper  (when everyone is finished with it) cutting out the pictures and article headings  she feels she must pray about. She places them into a kind of scrapbook which she regards as her prayerbook - holding the book open on her lap for at least some of the time she spends in front of the Trinity icon, imagining that these persons in their desperation and struggle are sitting beside her to left and right. I might use the following approach to prayer before the icon as a discipline: 

  • Seating myself comfortably, I place the icon at eye level.
  • I first observe the Holy Three in conversation with one another.
  • The Spirit and the Son in harmony with the Father.
  • The mountain and tree leaning in towards the Father's open house.
  • There is a circular dynamic of shared divine life and love ~ Spirit and Son to the Father,
  • The Father completing the circular movement, returning this life and love to the Spirit.
  • I take up my place in this exchange - gently acknowledging my own union with the Spirit.
  • And then union with the Son - making the gift of myself to the Father with them and receiving whatever it is that God wants to share of himself with me.
  • I might enter this counter-clockwise circular movement each day - perhaps twice a day - and when distracted gently coming back to an awareness of the divine energies shared here. The Church Fathers speak of iron placed in fire and assuming the energies of the fire - though not becoming fire itself.

The Real Brazil show also indicated that Brazil is now the largest producer of designer flip-flops in the world: upscale stores  that sell only the latest in decorator colored and textured flip-flops. It's all the rage, we say. But in Brazil and many other countries, there are also garbage mountains where barefooted children pick through the garbage of the first-world searching for scraps of anything they might salvage - their feet cut up from metal and glass and infected with parasites and disease.

And so, while Rublev's Trinity is indeed a holy icon and to be entered into, venerated and contemplated,  these pictures and thousands of others like them, are part of the icon, equally to be kept near and contemplated:

Child-scavenging On Indonesian Garbage Mountain

Human Trafficking ~ the fastest growing crime on earth
I mustn't run or look away. Religion that doesn't transform or open up hearts is irrelevant. When religion talks about enlightenment it must mean getting out of and beyond myself so that I can see clearly enough to stand in solidarity and to love.

The little girl in the picture here should be in school and playing with happy classmates. Instead she is making bricks. Her future is grim.

Rublev created the Trinity Icon in a medieval world of darkness, slavery, war and  poverty. The discipline of sitting before and even IN the icon calls us to an experience of God in our own dark time, which is restorative, communal and which beautifies and enlivens the world through the transformation of my own heart and mind.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Entering the Trinitarian Circle (5)

IT'S SAID, THE ICON DOES FOR THE EYE what the Word of God does for the ear. And so the Rublev Trinity proclaims in painted image that God is One, but that within God's interior life there is a family or community of persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the icon, with it's empty space opening to the viewer says, God doesn't want to be admired or even just believed in, but God invites us to enter into God's own inner relational life. And sitting around a table is highly symbolic of all that is best in life. Isn't this wonderful! In a world where there is such loneliness, opposition and human degradation, that it matters to God that I exist, that God knows me and includes me: Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life abundantly," John 10:10.
It is generally accepted that the angel figure at the left of the table is a symbolic representation of God the Father. The Father is invisible and so the blue of divinity he wears is essentially concealed or hidden. Until Christ, God revealed himself in the mighty storm, the historical story of Israel, a prophet's call.

The Father sits more upright than the other  two who are inclined to the Father in conversation. The Father wears an imperial robe with golden hints.
"The Lord is King; He is clothed with majesty; He is girded with strength. For He established the world which shall not be shaken. Thy throne is prepared of old; Thou art from everlasting," Psalm 92
The colors of the Father's robe seem to have a layered appearance or quality. God is not contained by the limits of doctrinal language or a golden box or decree, but in the ever layering depths of our personal discovery and the unfolding of our hearts.

Each of the three carry a walking staff, but the Father's staff is upright, while the other two are leaning, as if in motion. Two persons of the Trinity have come to earth - the Spirit at the Annunciation and again in the Pentecost. The Son enters the world in the womb of Mary and at Bethlehem.

The figure in the center is believed to be a symbolic representation of Jesus, the Son. His mantle is blue as he fully reveals the Father's divinity. But his tunic is the color of clay-earth or even the dried blood which will be his life-gift. His right arm is over-sized as he seems to lean heavily on the table, which now becomes an altar - the altar of his sacrifice.

Notice that if we follow the lines created by the angel's legs, laps and chests on either side, from bottom to top, they form the shape of a deep cup or chalice and that Jesus, the Son, symbolically sits inside that cup, echoed again in the chalice that remains on the altar and yet again in the space created between the two foot rests.

The foot rests themselves are lovely indicators of God perhaps resting a bit. Why not? The Book of Genesis 2:2 tells us that God rested after he had made everything that was good. And God has gone to a great deal of trouble in coming into our world to retrieve all that is good.  Rather like the parents in Oklahoma, who clawed at the school's rubble until they found the child that was theirs, God will not allow us to be lost to him.

The figure on the right is the Spirit. The Father gazes at the Spirit who, with the Son, inclines his head in a perfect agreement of heart-intention, mind and purpose. And while the Son looks to the Father, he points to the Spirit with his right hand. It appears that the Son is blessing the cup, but art historians tell us that over many centuries of repair, an additional finger was added to the Son's right hand. In actuality, Rublev painted the Son pointing to the Spirit. The Spirit wears a fully revealed divinity-blue and green, the spring's color of regeneration, restoration, renewal and new life.

The Son and the Spirit each wear a golden band over their shoulders. This is called a clavus (once part of Greek and Roman costume indicating rank) and here expressing that the Son and the Spirit are the right and left hands of the Father reaching into the deepest darkness - where our world is weary, tear-soaked and hidden in debilitating fears.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Stepping Up To The Circle Of The Trinity (4)

A FRIEND WROTE SAYING that she was beginning to understand and appreciate the Trinity icon after reading the daily posts. Surely appreciation is increased when we are open and allow ourselves to be taught, but appreciation also increases when we stop to consider the icon and to look at it long and deeply. Never come before an icon as we do a TV commercial selling a product we don't need.

We say that a room is alive with color. Indeed, the icon is alive, but not the same as  lively. The icon  is a place of encounter with the other side, if you will. This doesn't just mean heaven, but there is the other side of my consciousness - my consciousness that isn't wrapped up in this-world concerns, or the masks we wear, or the defenses we create, or the persona we present to appear this way for this person and that way for that person.

Notice at once that while the three figures of the icon are looking at one another, there is also an open space in the front and that we see them full faced. These elements call us to step into the intimacy of the circle they've created around the table and the harmonious conversation that is obviously taking place. Silence is key. If I were to be invited to visit an important person, a pope, president, king or queen, I would never come into the person's presence talking, but I would be silent and wait to be addressed. It is the same with an icon; come into its radiant presence in silence. No hurry!

Circling. When we were little in grade school and getting ready to play a game, more often than not it began with the teacher saying, "Everyone get in a circle."  Or the first dances we learned as children were circle dances. Circle the wagons, we say when there's trouble threatening the group.

Circles invite and are an expression of unity. And here in Rublev's Trinity, the Holy Three are sitting in a circle around the table - the central figure behind and the other two at the sides and even coming around to the front. This circle seems to reach out to include or draw in the viewer.

But then there is a second circle in which the figures reside. If we were to place the top of a glass tumbler flat over the figures in the icon, they would fit perfectly inside the circle created by it.  And if that circle were to be divided up, pie-like into eight segments, each segment would contain a kind of echo of the opposite. This is a reflection of the divine equality of the figures. 

Lastly, there are an additional three circles which are the halos around the heads. The halo means: Pay attention to the face! Pay attention to the face! All of this circling suggests that this image is about community, conversation, intimacy, family, relationship, union.

There is of course, the movement of the figures that happens just because the three are seated so intimately. But there is also the active inner circular sharing of divine energies, divine life and love - one to the other, each holding simultaneously the fullness of who and what God is! Perichoresis is the technical  Greek  word that names that relational circling and sharing of divinity among the persons of the Trinity. Even the sound of the word seems to have movement and life in it! A circle might then be a better image for the Trinitarian sharing  than a shamrock or triangle, both of which are static and lifeless, while the circle is dynamic.

Contemplate the circular movements within the icon. But remain an observant outsider for now; don't take up your seat in the empty space just yet.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Scriptural Basis for the Old Testament Trinity Icon (3)

THE SCRIPTURAL ACCOUNT WHICH FORMS THE BASIS of the Old Testament Trinity icon is found in Genesis 18:1-8. The Lord appeared to Abraham on a hot afternoon. Perhaps Abraham had dozed off from the heat, but when he looked up he saw three men standing nearby. Abraham ran to meet them, bowed and said:

"O sirs, if perchance I find favor with you, please do not pass by without stopping with your servant."

The three visitors accepted Abraham's kind invitation: water for their feet  and the comfort of a shade  tree. He and Sarah prepared a generous meal - she making cakes with the best flour and a veal dish prepared from their herd. He then waited on his guests.

The visitors asked where Sarah was and predicted that upon their return, at the end of a year, she would have a baby, even though the two were long beyond child bearing years. But Sarah was listening from the door and thought it funny to hear  she'd have a child, as she was post-menopausal and her husband was, well, - just old. "How can there be marriage pleasure for me?" she wondered out loud.

The messengers either heard or imagined her thoughts and called over to her: "Don't laugh, nothing is too wonderful for God." Of course she denied having laughed, but one messenger said, "Oh yes you did!" A message from God is evidently no laughing matter.

The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

Rublev would have been familiar with the icon above, depicting the Genesis account: The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah. The three messengers are comfortably seated  around a table set with a white cloth, dishes and silverware. Elderly Sarah and Abraham are busy serving  while waiting for the young servant to prepare the fatted calf meal. The scene is so busy it's hard to imagine that the conversation among the three winged messengers was about anything other than the pleasant hospitality being extended to them.

But Rublev, with fresh insight, saw in the Three Messengers a symbolic depiction of the Holy Trinity. And so to emphasize that vision he has cleared the table of everything except the central cup, removed Abraham, Sarah and their farmhand from the scene, straightened up the posture of the angel-visitor on the left and made important color changes. Only the three seated messengers remain, along with  the house, tree and mountain, enabling us to focus all of our energies in contemplation of the Trinitarian Mystery.

Rublev's Old Testament Trinity

But before we do that, we might take a moment to consider Sarah's laughing. We all know that snickering which says, I know best, or That ain't happening, or I won't allow that or some variation of that thinking. The message is essentially I'm in charge. But then  things don't work out my way at all.

Indeed, Sarah was quite accurate in saying she and her husband were beyond child-bearing age, but she had forgotten to let God be God. The God-messenger didn't appreciate her laughing at the news. Lots of Christians live like Sarah, imagining they've got it all figured out - their bases are covered. Or worse still, their prayer is filled with directives for God. They might even deem themselves to be spiritual people, but they are not. Let God be God! Sarah had to learn this, and so do we.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Light in the Darkness ~ The Rublev Trinity (2)

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT AN ICON, SO WE'RE TALKING ABOUT LIGHT. This icon of the Holy Trinity has survived 588 years, including seventy years of violent, destructive Soviet disbelief. How!?

And of course, when we're speaking of an icon's light we're not talking about light-bulb light, or even sunlight, but heaven's light. And heavenly light is not an illuminated geographical place in the sky - but light for our minds. To stand before Rublev's icon of the Holy Trinity is to invite light into our lives. Enlightenment?

American Benedictine Monk, Father Mark Gruber, was staying in an Egyptian desert monastery when a 130 degree heat wave settled over the area surrounding the monastic property. The abbot was afraid that the American guest would die of heat stroke and dehydration  and that he would then have to deal with  the complexities of shipping a deceased American back home. So he had an elderly and frail monk escort the American some miles further into the desert, to the deep cave where the monastery's founder-monk lived for some years - a cave which would be thirty degrees cooler and where there was a  cistern of sweet water.

As the desert road covered holy ground, the journey to the cave needed to be made barefoot. As Father Mark, muttering, mumbling, grumbling and complaining, became aware that the soles of his feet had begun to bleed from the hot sand, the elder barefoot monk scurried ahead, discovering the scorpions that were poised to strike, all the while singing an Arabic hymn which resembled a child's melody. Father Mark remembers the lyrics as something like this:

"O God, I thank you and I praise you for this beautiful day in which you smile upon us with the strength of the sun and the warmth of your heart a furnace of love. I thank you for our founder who came to this barren wasteland to cultivate a garden of gratitude and praise in this house of prayer, this holy place of refreshment in the wilderness." (Journey Back to Eden, Mark Gruber O.S.B,  p. 201)
For starters then, enlightenment might mean: getting free of earthbound concerns, becoming aware of the others, grateful for whatever is good, looking beyond to the holy place of refreshment in the wilderness (which we can name for ourselves).
We might pause for some moments or minutes in silence before Rublev's icon, simply to notice, to consider the light it contains.  Then out of the silence, ask for the gift of light. Be still, and see if anything comes to mind.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Contemplating the Rublev Trinity Icon ~ Getting Ready

ALL OF THE MAJOR RELIGIONS HAVE MYSTICAL TRADITIONS. In Roman Catholicism there are Sts. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. In Judaism there is Kabbalistic philosophy and theosophy. Sufism is mystical Islam. Shaikh Shabestari, one of the most celebrated 14th century Sufi mystical poets. says this about Christianity.

"Christianity is non-attachment and detachment - freedom from the fetters of imitation are the pith and whole design I see in Christianity."

 But how are we to live this way: without attachments and inwardly free as God's children? Saint Paul tells us:

 "Now brothers and sisters, let your minds dwell on what is true, what is worthy, what is right, what is pure, what is amiable, what is kindly - on everything that is excellent or praiseworthy," (Philippians 4:8).

Perhaps another way of saying this even more succinctly: "Do everything you can to get Christ into your life; there is everything to take him away."

The Eastern Church keeps no particular feast in honor of the Holy Trinity because every liturgy is suffused with Trinitarian references. But the Western Church keeps the Feast of the Holy Trinity as one of the post-Easter Sundays: Pentecost, Trinity, The Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Andrei Rublev holding the Trinity icon 

Saint Andrei Rublev has given the world his icon of the symbolic Holy Trinity, which might help us not only to keep the Trinitarian feast this coming Sunday, but also to live more deeply considered lives as St. Paul suggests in the Philippian verse above and  the more detached life Shaikh Shabestari sees as the design of Christian living.

Andrei Rublev, born around 1360, is considered to be the greatest painter of medieval Russian icons and frescoes. He became a monk of the Trinity~St. Sergius Monastery outside Russia and died around 1430, having moved to the Andronikov Monastery, also near Russia. He is buried in that monastery and was canonized a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in June of 1988.

He is most well known for his icon sometimes called the Old Testament Trinity, which was painted around 1425. It still exists and is displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. The image is 56" X 46". While the word icon can be used for any kind of image, in its most narrow understanding, it is a painting in egg tempera on wood of sacred persons, done in the Byzantine style.

Rublev didn't invent the idea for the symbolic image of the Trinity. The image is based on the scriptural account in Genesis of the three messengers who visited Abraham and Sarah, to tell them that they would have a son even in their old age. But Rublev simplified the theme, eliminating extraneous parts so that we could focus our attention on the three figures exclusively, seeing in them the anticipation of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity: that there is one God, but within God's inner life, there is a community of persons ~ Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Rublev painted the icon of the Trinity for the monastery's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity - and it is essential to understand this - at a time when Russian life, like much of the medieval world, was very dark, defined by wars, invasions, violence, famine, tremendous poverty, hardship and disease. The black and white 1966 film, Rublev, created during the Soviet years, aptly conveys the desperation of his century.

The Trinity icon is a gift to the whole world, then and now, as it shines with a bright light, announcing the dynamic of God's shared inner life. To the world wherever and whenever it knows desperation and disintegration, the icon silently teaches that within God, there is life, community, family and relationship, and that when all seems lost, we are each invited to enter into that dynamic - a dynamic of transformative shared divine energies.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mary with the Eight-Pointed Star

HERE IS A PARTICULARLY BEAUTIFUL PAINTING OF THE MOTHER OF GOD with her Incarnate Son. Mary has a good hold on the Infant so as not to drop him. Perhaps the iconographer is telling us that this is how God loves us - with two hands, like a careful Mother.

The Divine Infant is wearing a dark blue shirt with gold stars. His outside cloak is almost orange and gold sparks are shooting through it. These spark-like lines of gold are called assiste. They reveal that Jesus is totally human, but also divine. Jesus is God with a human face!

Mary is wearing a soft white veil underneath the dark one. It is the kind of veil a bride would wear on her wedding day. Mary is God's Bride. And when God, husband-like, loves Mary, Jesus is born. He's called Saviour as he has set out to preserve each of us from own worst un-doing.
"Great is the might and power a beautiful woman has over a man who is in love with her...she causes him to rave and to go out of his mind...the Virgin (Mary) could do this with God Himself." Saint Lawrence of Brindisi 1619
Notice as well that Jesus is holding a scroll in his left hand. And while the scroll contains his teaching, it is rolled up tightly. Even before he asks anything of us, Jesus' first desire is to bless us and our families. All the while he is looking at us. Even though his head is tilted, we can see his face in full relatedness and with a sweet smile. God's smile. We smile back at him.

Mary is elegant in this image. She has tender eyes that look out at our world with understanding and hope. She wants only that we would love her Son. She wears a regally decorated  maphorion (veil and mantle). The cloak is dark because she comes from the earth like us. Only Jesus' cloak glows with the golden sparks of divinity.

Notice too that Mary is wearing a large pin by her heart that keeps her cloak fixed. It has an eight-pointed star on it. Some stars have five points, like the fifty stars on the flag of the United States. Some stars have six points, like the blue star on Israel's flag. But Mary's eight-pointed star is a symbol of the Queen of Heaven. In symbology the eight-pointed star means regeneration or new life. In Mary, who gives us Jesus the God-Man, we find new life: our growing-up, our greening, our personal evolution, our theosis or becoming like God by sharing God's energies. The Pentecost prayer says: "Kindle in us the fire of your love."  There it is!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Easter, the Egyptian-Copts and God's Face

At the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night, we heard the story of the Jewish people being kept as slaves in Egypt and that God, desiring his peoples' freedom, after the long and terrible plagues upon Egypt, freed the slaves and wiped out the Egyptian pursuers by the closing up of the Red Sea. This of course becomes the pattern for our own freeing-Passover in Jesus Christ - our passage through the water from the side of the crucified Christ, sign of Baptism, to the inner freedom of God's Children.

But a visitor stopped me after the Easter Mass to tell me about an Egyptian friend who feels so sad every time he hears that Exodus account. Why? Because the Egyptians are depicted as the enemy even of God! We can imagine our own sadness  were the villains the Irish, the Italians, the Germans or the Polish.

What are we to make of it all? Every nation on earth and probably since the time when nations came into existence, has taken a turn being viewed as someone else's enemy. What's troubling is that the Hebrew-Egyptian Exodus account is God's story. But in the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament) God can be something of a buster at times. God doesn't just defeat the Egyptians, but all the nations that stand in the way of the Hebrew advance. Massive armies fall. It's a blood-bath for many peoples.

But a Jewish Jungian analyst once told me that in the Incarnation, Jesus born of Mary, God seems to change as God turns his face towards us. It's as if God realizes the old tactics of blood and death don't work and God tenderizes and faces us squarely in the Vultus Christi - the Face of Christ. Everything is changed as God looks at us through the merciful eyes of Christ.

Of course, God's mercy is not a new idea. Jewish themes are replete with the beauty of God's mercy - God as the mother bird of the psalms standing over her nest filled with vulnerable chicks, her wings spread to form a shading umbrella over the nestlings against the scorching desert sun (Psalm 91:4).

Perhaps God's got this inner tension that gets worked out in Christ. Folks who remember their catechism will argue, "But God is unchanging." Yes. In God's essence there is unchanging mercy and love, but on the other  hand, God HAS to change, because we change.
Anyway, Egyptian Christians for millenia have been among the most remarkably beautiful disciples in the long line of Christian believers. Father Mark Gruber, O.S.B. is an archaeologist-monk of St. Vincent's Archabbey in Latrobe, PA. He spent some time in the Egyptian desert researching stones and ruins, but wound up living with Coptic (Egyptian) monks. He tells the story of this heart-journey in diary form in his book Journey Back to Eden - My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers (Orbis Books 2002). This is one of the best books I've ever read - full of challenge for Westerners. Only silence and awe are fitting responses to the account of the apparition and miracle related on page 111. The book can be gotten inexpensively online.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Lost

The Eastern Christian world has hundreds (maybe thousands) of icons of the Mother of God under as many titles. Each is unique: an event commemorated, a stance, a glance, the colors, background, story, the disposition of the Holy Child.

But why so many? Someone in love might say, "I can't contain myself," or speak of love that's overflowing. That's what this is all about. We've all visited a house where there are seemingly countless pictures of the same person(s) in a variety of outfits, situations, poses, places, props, companions.

This is the icon of the Mother of God ~ Searcher of the Lost. Sometimes she is called, Searcher of the Perishing. Here's the story. In the mid 18th century a pious Russian peasant, Theodotus, lost his way at night on the Feast of the Lord's Baptism. His horse became exhausted, and as he began to fall asleep from the cold, he asked for help from heaven, promising if he survived, he would have an icon painted of the Mother of God ~ Seeker of the Perishing.

A man in another village heard a voice outside his window say, "Take him." He went out and found Theodotus. Restored back to health Theodotus had the icon painted and given to the Church of Saint George in Bolkhov.

These varying titles: Searcher of the Lost or Searcher of the Perishing are important,  as we live on this planet which is often a planet of loss. There's the day-to-day losses that can be nerve wracking and time consuming: losing the keys, the cellphone, the wallet. A document gets irretrievably lost when we accidentally hit delete. Sometimes we lose a night's sleep, or when we're stressed we might jokingly say, "I'm losing my mind." Sometimes we lose our sense of humor, a game or a  bet.

But then there are the more serious  losses. We lose a dear one to death. We lose a friend through mistake or mis-understanding. We can lose our fiscal solvency. Lose sobriety. Lose our inner balance and wind up depressed. Lose our faith or our health. We can get lost to wrong-headedness or manipulation. Lose a job, lose self-respect, lose inner peace.  Lose all sense of good conscience. Lose your soul. We can wind up the loser because we've procrastinated.  It's not easy living on this earth. Indeed, the story of poor Theodotus lost on a snowy night is symbolic of so much of life.

But heaven doesn't want us living in loss. The title for the icon begins with the word Searcher. We're reminded of all the searching that goes on in the Gospels: Searching for the Pearl of Great Price, Searching for the Lost Sheep, Searching for the Lost Coin, The Lost (or Prodigal) Son. I think Jesus, raised up on the cross, was looking out  for each of us, in some way or other, lost.

Gazing at the icon I might consider the losses of my life (this isn't about lost keys and parking spaces). Notice in the icon there is a tree seen through the window. We're invited to enter our inner place. There is a curtain pulled back on the right. God has pulled back the veil or barriers of separation in his search for us. The Mother of God is holding the Holy Infant with clasped hands, a kind of safe-guarding fence. He seems to stand on her as a baby climbs all over his/her mother, testing strengthening legs. In Christ, God is climbing all over humanity in love.

The icon's feast day is February 5. Here are the two prayers the icon invites:

Within the Temple, O Temple of Life, you found Him whom the universe cannot contain, silencing the teachers by the word of God which is above the wisdom of the wise. O all-pure Mother of God, cease not seeking your children who are lost; that we may treasure Christ in our hearts, and find eternally our Father's House.

Vincent Van Gogh ~ Sorrowing Old Man ~1890

 Seek us who are perishing, O Most Holy Virgin, chasten us not according to our sins, but as you are merciful in your love for humankind, have pity, deliver us from eternal loss, sickness and necessity, and save us.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Monastero Dell'Assunta Incoronata

This is the mountain monastery, Monastero Dell'Assunta Incoronata, which translates The Monastery of the Assumption Crowned. It sits atop Monte Corona in Umbertide (oom-bare-tee-day), Italy. In September of 2008 I stayed there for two silent weeks, by the forest's edge, in the little hermitage on the far right of the picture. The monastery is about a half mile up in the air, where the rain and the thunder originate, accessible in good weather by a rough, narrow, switch-backed dirt road. How did the 16th century monks get the building materials to the mountain top?

The founding monks at Monte Corona were Camaldolese who for centuries faithfully lived a balance of hermit and communal life. Having been expelled by Napoleon, the monastic order suffered and the buildings were abandoned. But today the monastery is being reclaimed by the Brothers of Bethlehem, a new monastic family following the spirit of the 11th century hermit-rule of Saint Bruno.

Though few in number there will always be monks: men and women who retire from the world's obsession with usefulness, prestige, power, entertainment and possessions - proofs that we can live peaceful, hospitable, godly lives of simplicity in loving communities.

Brother Marie Luke was the Receiver of Guests during my stay. As the monks would be housing and feeding me, at the start of the retreat I asked him what monetary offering I should leave. He answered, "We ask for nothing." His answer didn't help me, so I tried asking another way, "But what would you like?" He replied at once, "Only your comfort."

What a stunning answer: "Only your comfort." Can you imagine!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our Most Holy Lady Cyber Monastery

In the Middle East there is a tradition that says, when Jesus died on the cross and was  put in Mary's arms, she let out such a great cry that it echoed among the surrounding mountains and hills. In remembrance of her lament, a monastery was built nearby called Our Most Holy Lady.

I can find nothing about the monastery today. Like anything else monasteries come and go. Sometimes enemies plunder them, or wars destroy them, or the environment is too inhospitable for the monks to survive. Still, a community of monks established to remember Mary's sorrow seems very fitting in a world of tears. There are many monasteries and convents in that part of the world, some large, others with only a handful of monks. So let's imagine that the Monastery of Our Most Holy Lady still exists or that we are calling it back into existence.

More than 250,000 Yemeni children
suffer from malnutrition
If I were the abbot of Our Most Holy Lady, I would require that to be a monk at this monastery, the applicant would have to commit to pray each day for the people of the world who weep for the losses of their lives. The charism or spiritual quality of the monastery would be that the monks and nuns would have a deep sense of solidarity with the world in its tears: the mother here whose little baby is among the over 250,000 children who suffer malnutrition in Yemen. The father who carries his baby, killed in war, to the cemetery. The three girls in Ohio who were kept in sexual slavery.

As a young man I strongly considered a vocation to the hermit life - a monk living a solitary life of  prayer and work. Exploring the idea I would visit a small community of hermit nuns from time to time, living for a week or so in a hermitage in the woods. In a conversation with one of  the sisters I asked, "What does a hermit do all day?" She answered, "He reads The New York Times and then goes to pray." It made sense to me.

This doesn't mean that the monks and nuns of Our Most Holy Lady Monastery would go around dehydrating in  floods of depressed tears, but it does mean that they would take the world's pain very seriously, acknowledging those tears in their prayer. Perhaps at times they would have to work  hard not to become immune to it all and to remain open-hearted. Why not give a lifetime to this? Human beings give their hearts to many lesser things: cars, wars, stock portfolios, entertainments, novels, success. Why not a monastery whose reason for existing, is to stand with the world in its suffering, to learn the heart of mercy, in prayer before God?

Maybe we could think about the formation of a kind of cyber-monastery where we'd do just that. That as we read a newspaper, we'd never turn a page where suffering is recounted without a prayer. That as we watch the news on any kind of screen, we'd never switch channels or log-off without at least a moment of  silent recognition and solidarity. The point being that we would train ourselves to notice, to ponder, to honor, instead of just racing off to the next event, commitment or distraction.

I've seen Michelangelo's moving pieta in Rome a number of times - Mary holding the dead Christ across her lap after he was taken down from the cross. Each time I've visited  there are large crowds milling about and posing for pictures in front of it. There is a hum of talking as camera-ready folks tell their friends and family where and how to stand and to smile. You don't get the feeling that anyone is reflecting on the image or certainly making any connection to the laments people are making all over the world.

But even if the crowds were respectfully quiet and aware of Michelangelo's masterpiece, honoring Jesus' death and Mary's sorrow, I'm not sure it would mean a great deal if they didn't  then make the planet-connection, honoring the pieta as it exists in so many places around the world everyday.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In a dangerous world...

The collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh recently and the explosions at the Boston Marathon have reminded us, yet again, that we live in a dangerous world. That's always been true about life on this planet, whether it's the ancient world, the European Medieval world or Europe in the 1940's.

But this time we live in has its own real and deeply felt threats. Sometimes the dangers are experienced by people far away: a great wave takes people away in Japan and a damaged nuclear reactor displaces people for miles. Or there are fires and floods in other states or other countries. Sometimes the dangers occur within our own communities or in our families: a neighbor or relative becomes deathly ill or there is divorce, bankruptcy, accident or addiction.

And then sometimes there are threats to us personally as we struggle with our own weakness, depression, anxieties, mis-direction or disbelief. There can also be persons in our lives who make trouble for us - who are divisive, dangerous, suspicious, manipulating, dishonest. The threats and dangers can beset us so deeply, and the resolution seem to be so beyond our own capacity and the skills of helpers, that we implore heaven. There are no athiests in a foxhole, the saying goes.

Often when danger is near or life is threatening, we turn to Mother. Good mothers are consolers, protectors, defenders, healers, advocates, helpers. Until the time of the Protestant Reformation, seemingly all Christians shared that there was maternal help from heaven in the Virgin Mary. The earliest known prayer to Mary, originating in the mid 3rd  century asks for her protection:

We fly to your patronage O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O Virgin glorious and ever blessed.

And here is a wonderful prayer for each day asking Mary's maternal help. It is called Mary's Breastplate. A breastplate, of course, is a piece of essential armor, guarding our vulnerable and vital hearts. Notice the last line refers to ourselves as Mary's property and possession. We should think of this as an ownership most precious - the loss of the possession as unthinkable, like this sensitive 1960's mom who shares her coat with her little girls on a chilly day. You see, these thoughts or insights about Mary don't come from nowhere - as if from some over reaching or fevered imagination. We learn about heavenly things often by observing the best of what's deeply human.

O Domina Mea

O my Queen! My Mother!
I give myself entirely to you;
and to show my devotion to you,
I consecrate to you this day my eyes,
my ears, my mouth, my heart,
my whole being, without reserve.
Wherefore, good Mother,
as I am your own,
keep me, guard me,
as your property and possession.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Madonna della Strada

The image shown here is of the recently restored image of Our Lady of the Way. In Italian, Madonna della Strada. The 13th-14th century fresco (a wall painting done on damp plaster) was originally painted on the wall of Saint Mary of the Way in Rome, the church of  the  Jesuit priests, given to Saint Ignatius by Pope Paul III in 1540.

The old church was replaced by the Church of the Gesu (Gesu is Jesus in Italian) and the preserved image was moved there in 1575 to a side chapel where Jesuits pronounced their vows. Madonna della Strada reminds Jesuits of their origins and their great devotion to Mary. With the image restored in 2006,  according to experts it can be seen now as it was when Ignatius and his first companions knew it.

Here is a prayer we might pray as we gaze, perhaps especially when waking up - even before checking emails or texts, or taking the first phone call:

Sweet Mary,
our heavenly Mother,
guide our steps
on the often wild and rugged
way of life,
and when life arrives
at its end,
be for us
the door of heaven,
and show us the fruit
of your womb, Jesus.

Of course the words the way  don't refer to roads and sidewalks, but our life-way: the way of our growing up, the way of our joys and sorrows, the way of our successes and failures, the way of the challenges we need to step up to, the way that leads through the things that are tedious, fearsome, irksome. The way refers to my life as spouse, parent, student, sibling, the way of being friend, neighbor, colleague, the way of being God's dear child on this planet today - along with the billions of others. It is the way of struggling each day to be human, with the unique self God has created me to be and by which I glorify God.

Even though the edges of the fresco are irregular, we're fortunate that the Virgin's right hand has been saved. We notice that it is an open hand. We don't need to come before God holding onto anything that we think will win favor with God: no stories of good deeds done, no accomplishments or records of religious obligations met. We come before God, just as we are: anxious, little, broken, confounded, weary, tempest-tossed, - indeed - bankrupt, however that word might apply to each of us.

There is a very fine article online about the marvelous restoration of the Madonna della Strada image:  Restored image of the Madonna della Strada.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Fifth Glorious Mystery ~ Mary is Queen

Window-like, an icon is an encounter with the heavenly side. Here the Virgin Mary has stepped up to the window, holding her divine son. She is very beautiful and wears a crown, as she is Queen - Queen Mother. Her son is the Lord and so looks like a little man. He blesses us and holds a disc or orb that symbolizes the cosmic dimensions of his rule. What's the cosmic dimension? Perhaps it's the pictures of space captured by the Hubble telescope? Maybe it's the new world of now ever changing tele-communication? Maybe it's the realms of our complex minds and the even more complex realms of our hearts?

The initials MP ~ OY on either side of Mary stand for Theotokos - which means Mother of God, while the initials IC ~ XC on either side of her son stand for Jesus Christ. It's been said  before, that Mary creates an atmosphere around Jesus. Here she has placed her son on a pillow and holds him securely. There are angels in the upper corners. Their wings seem to have flame in them.

Both The Mother of God and Jesus look at us squarely. There is no offering of profile that would break our communion with them.  In some cultures it is a sign of disrespect to look someone in the eye, but not here. Here we are invited to look deeply and to allow ourselves to be looked upon deeply. Some people find it very difficult to maintain eye contact because they are not honest.

This icon encourages us to just look. We don't need to think religious thoughts. We don't need to fathom there are hidden messages to be heard or intuited. We don't need to do anything really. Just to sit and gaze.

Enhanced lips and whiter than white teeth seem to be all the rage these days. But in icons the mouths of Jesus, Mary and the saints are de-emphasized. That's because in heaven they are not needed for eating and so much talking. Our culture is obsessed with both.  The icon invites us to a prolonged and deep silence, which is a wonderful way to pray.

Our Father, Who art in heaven...

There are options galore, and we all make our choices about how we will go, which path we will follow. Here is a way that will delight and ground us: Jesus is King! Mary is Queen!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Some people say that to call Mary  queen is outdated and irrelevant. Maybe. Then offer her the most over-the-top title you can come up with, as her response to God was over-the-top. Let the title express honor, gratitude and love.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

She is queen, but Queen-Mother - Mother of the King. She is the most sensitive one, the most wise and solicitous one. She is Queen-Mother: of the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the ignored, the weakest, the invisible ones.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Regina Rosarium! Queen of the Rosary! The rosary is the chain that binds up Satan. In The Passion of the Christ, it is really Mary who is most hated by Satan. Why? Because she is the first to believe - to say yes to Jesus. The rosary is hers!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Regina Mundi! Queen of the World! What a title! Our weary, wounded, anguished world of tears needs a mother's consolation, comfort and nurturing. And she tells the world, as she did at Cana. Do what he tells you.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Regina Pacis! Queen of Peace! There are great queens in the world's history who made peace happen. And there are queens who urged their king-husbands or sons to make peace. War kills children. War is expensive. War steals from the poor. War is ruining our earth-paradise. We need heavenly help to make peace happen today.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Regina Apostolorum! Queen of Apostles! The Creed says we believe in an apostolic faith. The word apostle means one who is sent out. Sent out for what?  To share the good news of Christ's being with us, to change us, to grow-us-up, to make us new.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Virgo praedicanda! Virgin most renowned! Her face has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine more than any other woman. Though slandered, attacked, mocked, ignored; Mary is here to stay. Love her!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Queen of the Universe! Surely this title is too much. On the other hand, why not? We talk of space wars and a new telescope that will go back to the origins of light. Space is the new frontier. So why not, Mary, Queen of the Universe?

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Saint Bernadette said about the visions of Mary she experienced at Lourdes, It isn't my job to convince  you of these things but only to tell you about them. Share with someone else that Mary and the Christ she holds in her arms are the source of your joy!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Glory be to the Father...

Baby's Breath ~ Our Lady's Veil

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Fourth Glorious Mystery ~ The Assumption

"I believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come," we pray in the Nicene Creed. And Mary in her Assumption is the first to enjoy this promise. In this icon the apostles have gathered to visit the tomb of the Virgin Mary, but upon their arrival they found it empty. Another tradition says it was filled with flowers. We see Thomas (poor fellow, once again confounded) who asked for a sign from heaven that indeed She, like her Son, had ascended. Mary kindly dropped her cincture or sash as "token of her affection." This icon is rather primitive - the landscape looks as if it had been done by a child. No matter ~ we are all and always her children.

Our Father, Who art in heaven...

God is no loser. Here Mary takes her place in the inner life of God ~ her place within the Holy Trinity. And there is a place for me too!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

That she stood beneath the cross of her son, Jesus, reveals that Mary had only one desire: to be united with him. And Jesus does not disappoint. I must remember this as I go through my day.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

The word Assumption signifies being taken up: Mary is taken up to be with her Son. Mary is taken up to higher things: from a world of darkness to light and the enjoyment of God's own life.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Eastern Christians call this feast The Dormition of Our Lady ~ Mary's Falling Asleep. But then to wake up fully in God's presence and love. I can begin that heaven now, today, waking up to what God is doing in my life, even in this moment.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

So much talk about division, alienation, separation and loss. And here's this marvelous scene: that when Mary went to heaven, angels welcomed her with songs and conducted her to Jesus, who came to meet her!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

What will heaven be? Surely joy! I have come that you may have joy and have it fully, Jesus said. But this is joy born of relationships healed and whole. Mary and her Son. Me with Jesus! Me with Mary! Us with each other.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

The Sunday Creed says, I believe in the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. And Mary goes first, ahead of us, where body and soul are re-united. Re-union! The healing of all divisions!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

In the Assumption, Mary wears a crown of stars. Heaven will be about light, which is knowing, understanding, seeing rightly, finding the way, being assured, having the mind of Jesus, who calls himself light.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

When we were young and little and we knew the grown-ups were going somewhere, we'd sing out, I want to go too. We dreaded the thought of being left out, left behind. Mary and Jesus have gone to heaven, even in their bodies! I want to go too!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Mary's story ends with flowers and stars, angel song and seeing Jesus. Her tomb was empty when the apostles gathered. The story doesn't end in decay. Let's be encouraged and gladdened.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Glory be to the Father...

Foxglove ~ Our Lady's Glove

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Third Glorious Mystery ~ The Pentecost

Here is an icon of the Pentecost ~ the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Jerusalem is in the background. The perspective in the buildings is not what we are used to, reflecting that God's perspective: how to be human, how life can go, what we might think really matters ~ is very different from our own. And that this is not just a camera-ready historical moment, but one which transcends our snapshot, frozen-in-time thinking. This is why among the apostles, Saint Paul, who never met Jesus, is shown sitting across from Saint Peter in the front of the line on the right. I suppose we could put our own image in that place just as easily. Imagine, sitting in the circle of apostles on the day of Pentecost!

We notice that there is an empty chair in the middle of the scene between Peter and Paul. This is Jesus' chair. But Jesus has now returned to the Father in glory. The Father has sent the Holy Spirit as the Vicar of Christ. A vicar is a person who is authorized to represent someone else with that person's full authority.

There is this strange figure in the bottom center of the icon. This is the Ruler of the World - who lives in shadow and who seeks to have control of minds and lives. Maybe this ruler isn't a particular person but organizations and movements - maybe it's the media which wants to keep us shopping and spending, comfortable, protected and entertained. It seems we will have to wait for the brightness radiating from heaven to permeate this dark, underworld place.

As the heavens open up there are twelve rays emerging from above. These are the tongues of fire which will settle on each of the apostles. Fire is catalytic and purifying. Notice that in the icon there is no dove representing the Holy Spirit's descent. That's because there is no mention of a dove in the scriptural account of Pentecost - at the Baptism of Jesus, yes, but not at Pentecost. Divided flame which settles on the apostles is the Pentecost image.

And so long as there's the question about the dove. One thoughtful priest has suggested that it is perhaps the wrong bird to represent  God's Spirit because it is too soft, too pretty, too tame, too quiet. It might be better to have a wild goose represent the Holy Spirit. A goose is untamed, unpredictable, noisy. You can't easily catch or control a goose. The Spirit is much more like that, though many Christians will be uncomfortable with that iconography. So if the Holy Spirit is more like a goose than a dove, we'd best be really ready when we pray, "Come, Holy Spirit..."

Holy Spirit as Wild Goose Chase

Our Father, Who art in heaven...

It is the Jewish feast of Pentecost. It is the day of celebrating God's goodness and care through the harvest. Now with the visit of Jesus' Holy Spirit, it is a spiritual harvest: the Spirit of Jesus makes us abundantly fruitful in goodness and belief.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

The Spirit comes down like fire. And this fire separated over each of them. It separated! This means that the source must be one and the same over each. God! And that each of us is  uniquely filled with God's gifts. We must accept this about ourselves and each human person.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Flame gives light. I ask the Spirit of Jesus to enlighten my mind, to take it out of the darkness where evil thoughts, guilt and protected memories breed. The flame comes to enlighten my mind to the teachings of Jesus ~ his purposes for me, his plans.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

And a great wind accompanied this Spirit-gift. It must have been noisy enough to draw the attention of the people in the city. Be wary of Christianity that is private and too quiet. In a world where deadly, bloody, violent sin happens, Christians have to make some noise, quite literally, for Christ's sake.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Flame gives heat. I ask the Spirit of Jesus to warm my heart with love for Jesus, who loves me endlessly. I ask Jesus to give me a love for myself where I am degraded. I ask for the gift of loving other people, especially the people who are different, or as the world goes, who are unlovable.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

The apostles are gathered in a room when the strength of Jesus comes down on them. And they go out from that room with a new role or mission to accomplish for Jesus. I must discover and learn mine. Jesus waits!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit came down, Peter preached boldly and everyone understood him in his or her own language. On that day it seems there was a great unity that drew thousands. Today, unity is very hard to achieve. But Pope Benedict XVI has said: Even if there cannot be a unity of belief, there can be a unity of love.

Hail Mary, full of grace...

And there is the gift of tongues. This is not so much about sounds coming out of mouths, but the spirit-ability to pass on Christ's truth to people of different situations and circumstances: the people who hear me!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

In hearing the spirit-filled apostles, three thousand people converted and were baptized that day. But day-by-day, am I being converted? Am I turning to a friendship with Jesus that changes my own heart and gives me joy?

Hail Mary, full of grace...

In Baptism I was drenched, soaked, saturated and flooded with the very life of Christ. I became a new creation, a new kind of human person: living my own unique life as truthfully and as beautifully as Jesus lived his!

Hail Mary, full of grace...

Glory be to the Father...

Rosemary ~ Saint Mary's Tree