Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Our Lady of Boquen

This statue is a replica of the image of Our Lady of Boquen which I had  placed in a church where I was pastor for eleven years. Boquen is a 12th century monastery in France. Originally a Cistercian foundation, it eventually became a kind of monastic experiment open to single and married men and women and even their families: a gospel-school of faith, prayer and the common life. Presently it is a monastery of the Sisters of Bethlehem, who share the charisms (spiritual gifts) of the Carthusians - a hermit order following the rule of St. Bruno. The monastery's original medieval statue can still be found in the monastic church at Boquen. She is sometimes called, Our Lady of the White Woods.

When visiting Lourdes some years ago I discovered the 3/4 life-sized statue in the religious goods store operated by the Bethlehem Community. I felt at once that it would be a lovely way to share the Lourdes experience with the parish community, and so we had the image shipped back to the United States.

The statue is  lovely in its deep human expression: the holy Mother smiles admiringly at her Son, she plays with his bare foot and holds him on her hip as mothers do. The baby is dozing and confidently resting his arm over his mother's heart while sitting comfortably on her throne-hand. Thomas Merton wrote that one of the happy effects of the Second Vatican Council is that we started to see images again of Mary as Child-Bearing Mother. While she is Lady of Grace with open arms and hands as in the image on the Miraculous Medal, she is all the more, with the Holy Spirit, God's agent of the Incarnation - God become one of us in Jesus Christ.

But we must remember that Mary's story with the Infant Jesus is a terrifying story: she is pregnant though not yet living with Joseph as husband, she is full-term and traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey, she suffers the insecurity of not knowing where the child will be born, they live in poverty, Herod wants the Child gone, they flee as refugees to Egypt. Clearly, in the newborn Christ, heaven stands in solidarity with women and children who suffer terribly all around the world. 

It isn't easy being a woman. For a short time there was a particularly silly TV show called The Swan in which homely or "unattractive" women completely  re-made themselves  to be acceptably beautiful. They lost enormous amounts of weight, they exercised themselves into new body-types, they had surgeries to "fix" their faces, they changed their hair and wardrobes. And then at  the end, after all the months of reconstruction and reconfiguration, the winner of the most dramatic renaissance was announced. But there was only one winner. The message being to the others, "You still come up short," "You still don't quite cut it."

But that's only part of it, isn't it? Women, and especially women with children, face untold indignities and struggles just because they're women. The Boquen Mother of God is standing. She's on her feet. She's bright and joyful - though the life she led with the child on her hip was by no means an easy one. The poem-prayer announces and invokes that Lady.

Bright Mother of the newly conceived,
Playful Mother of children frightened in war,
Smiling Mother of children without hope,
Joy-Bearing Mother in our sorrow and loss,

pray for us!
pray with us!

Pleased Mother for our small steps into compassionate love,
Golden-Boy's Mother of women in darkness,
Strong Mother of children who are failing,
Willing Mother glad in the adoption of  little ones,

pray for us!
pray with us!

Trusting Mother of women confounded in pregnancy,
Faithful Mother of the fearful,
Happy Mother who softens human hearts to mercy,
God-reliant Mother of children who scavenge garbage mountains,

pray for us!
pray with us!

Generous Mother of women and children who have nothing,
Heart-awake Mother of women un-supported,
Dignified Mother of women who feel shame,
Beauteous Mother of women snared in sex trade,

pray for us!
pray with us!

Life-Containing Mother of women who desire maternity,
Sorrow-Sharing Mother of women who have lost a child,
White Woods Mother of  children used in pornography,
New Monastic Mother of those without family or community,

pray for us!
pray with us!

Admiring Mother of children who are handicapped,
Supportive Mother of women who live with violent men,
Bethlehem Mother of missing children,
Our Mother bright patch of blue sky,

pray for us!
pray with us!

A new Lady of Boquen with a baby on her hip. No child day care.  This holy child breaths dust and traffic toxins.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A New Litany - The Red of Christ's Blood

Deep Were His Wounds, And Red ~ (William Johnson 1958)

FRANCIS, OUR NEW POPE IS STIRRING THINGS UP around the world. He's invited us to"flip the tortilla" which means to get things going, to look at the other side. So here's a new litany prayer at the end of July, the Month of the Precious Blood. But this prayer focuses just on the red of Christ's Blood. The fundamental insights about red come from some study of color symbology, heraldic, botanical and cultural appreciations and uses of red. I've even become aware of the psychology of color used by paint companies.

Early on in his papacy, Pope John Paul II was speaking with a group of pilgrims who, after reflecting with him on the condition of the world, asked simply, "What are we to do?" The pope answered at once, "Look East." He may have had in mind that we develop a new appreciation of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches. Or perhaps he meant for Westerners simply to learn how the Eastern mind sees things. So my investigation of the color red also reflects Asian appreciation and understandings. Then I have conjoined those color-insights with the spiritual gift Christians have in adoring the Blood of Christ. And so no one is left in confusion, after the Litany Prayer there are brief explanations which might help us to understand a little better.

Blood of Christ, full stop.
Blood of Christ, flooding our sinful districts.
Blood of Christ, consuming fire.
Blood of Christ, joy beyond excitation.
Blood of Christ, our recognition.
Blood of Christ, which wards off evil.
Blood of Christ, expander of minds.
Blood of Christ, our blooming.
Blood of Christ, fresh dynamism.
Blood of Christ, heaven's answer to our holocausts.
Blood of Christ, covering the nations.
Blood of Christ, reaching upwards.
Blood of Christ, our celebration.
Blood of Christ, our happiness.
Blood of Christ, promise of long life.
Blood of Christ, inviting creativity.
Blood of Christ, righteous anger.
Blood of Christ, desert flower.
Blood of Christ, calling to the bride.
Blood of Christ, our dawning.
Blood of Christ, heaven's victory.
Blood of Christ, our preference.
Blood of Christ, divine largess.
Blood of Christ, all beautiful.

Blood of Christ, full stop. Red is the western color of stop lights and stop signs. Christ's red blood that says, stop destroying the earth-paradise given to you. Stop falling back on war as the solution to problems. Stop killing your children. The red of Christ's Blood is also God's answer to our red-blushing, humanity's shame and embarrassment.

Blood of Christ, flooding our sinful districts. We speak of Red Light Districts which are areas of exploitation through pornography and prostitution. The Blood of Christ  in its fluidity seeps into these places of human degradation, manipulation, wealthy excess and advantage taking.

Blood of Christ, consuming fire. As primitives,  fire was likely one of our first experiences of the color red. Again, we consider Brother Roger's invitation: "Stay close to the fire which is Christ and eventually even the thorns of your life will burst into flame." A saint is one consumed with the fire of God's love. 
Blood of Christ, joy beyond excitation. Red signifies real joy contrasted with excitation. We don't seem to understand joy any more,  only being excited. We're overwhelmed with commercials to solve the problem of ED. Sad to say, these products are not used by old men nearly so much as by young men who are dis-empowered by overloading on pornography or who want to maximize their excitation with a combination of drugs. "I bring you news of great joy" the angel said to the shepherds of Christmas night. A joy more enduring than the excitation of a theme park ride or a test drive in a vehicle that crashes through the muddy wilderness! We can't imagine!

Blood of Christ, our recognition. Red is the color of recognition. Mother Teresa says  the greatest poverty of the first world countries is our loneliness. How many people have no one? The elderly sit in nursing home lobbies hoping  the next person to walk through the electric door will be someone who has come to visit them. "I have called you by name, you are mine," (Isaiah 43:1)God knows that I exist. God took a moment to create the idea of you, of me.

Blood of Christ, wards off evil. The devil is often depicted as the Red Man. But in Chinese culture, red wards off evil. We might invoke the Blood of Christ when we're up against it: the evil of so much killing, the evil of the world ignoring fundamental rights, the evil of hatred, the evil of power abuse, the evil of failing our children. 

Blood of Christ, expander of minds. A young teacher tells of meeting third grade students who can't name the planet we live on. There are Americans whose thought of the world stops at the edge of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The people of the Middle East say of Americans that we collect information for our news rooms but never ask "why?" On a transatlantic flight I was seated next to a 40-something year old woman from Texas who talked the entire crossing as if the Civil War was still being fought. Red signifies expansion.

Blood of Christ, our blooming. Our blooming signifies our becoming, our personal evolution, the awakening of our mental health. Jesus cures lots of people physically, but he understands that the closed minds of the religious officials was a greater problem. In psychology there is the term individuation which is: the process by which an individual in the course of his or her life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what  she has it in her to become. That's blooming.

Blood of Christ, fresh dynamism. We're becoming a culture of zombies: over medicated, too much electricity in the atmosphere, music that's reduced to the bass line, staring at technology that we're no longer able to ponder a painting. We need to recover an inner dynamic, soul life -  instead of resorting to high energy drinks. Red is a dynamic color.

Blood of Christ, heaven's answer to our holocausts. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, tells us of the day the Nazis gathered the community of men and hanged a twelve year old boy in front of them. A twelve year old boy is bar mitzvah age - the age of becoming an engaged and responsible Jew - the promise of the future. And so the attack upon the community that day was a psychological-spiritual one. Of course, we can understand the question: Where was God in that moment? Many people reject God because of God's seeming absence. Maybe to say that God is omnipotent means something different to God than it means to us. While the Jewish Holocaust is unique - there are other holocausts too: that of the genocides, the factory -like aborting of children. When Dresden was burned during the Second World War the fire was so great it formed one flame shooting up into the night sky. In Christ, God bleeds with us in the worst that can happen.

Blood of Christ, covering the nations. Recently a diocesan Catholic Newspaper featured a front page picture of the Virgin Mary looking heavenward, holding a crucifix and wrapped with an American flag worn as a shawl. This is silly. Sixty five nations claim Mary as their patroness. And seventy-seven nations have flags employing the color red. Sometimes these religious images are used in a pre-conscious way, as the circle of  twelve stars on the flag of  European Union. Long before this Euro flag was created the Virgin Mary was symbolized as wearing a crown of twelve stars. And while many nations employ the color red in their flags for a variety of reasons, it may indicate, in a pre-conscious way, that the earth is under the protective mantle of God's life-blood. Of course, these thoughts might be even bitterly rejected by some, but there you have it.

Blood of Christ, reaching upwards. Saint Paul writes to the young Christian community at Philippi, "My brothers and sisters, I need only add this. If you believe in goodness and if you value the approval of God, fix your minds on whatever is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and admirable." (Philippians 4:8) 

Blood of Christ, our celebration. The news is more often than not, bad news.  Young men valorize brute strength and crushing the other. But how enriched we'd be if we celebrated the best that's in us. If we celebrated the touch of God in transforming a life! Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche (the Ark), communities throughout the world of shared life with special needs persons. At the heart of the L'Arche communities is celebration: that someone got a job, that someone is new to the community, that someone is moving on, that someone has good news about his or her health, that someone achieved some particular and personal victory. That God is gently present and moving us along. Red invites celebration.

Blood of Christ, our happiness. In a school for young people who have lost their way, when asked, "What is it that you want?" the teenager will most often say, "I just want to be happy." Indeed! That's what the drugs, sex,  alcohol, high speeds and rebellion were all about - a futile, dead-end search for happiness. But real happiness is being at peace and comfortable in my own skin - okay with my self and other people and God. Red signifies human happiness.

Blood of Christ, promise of long life. The TV commercials are filled with promises that guarantee health and long life. Take these pills, see this physician, have this surgical endowment, drink this drink, work this machine. A far cry from "An apple a day..." Long life. Monks and nuns tend to live long lives. They live rightly, avoiding excess and lifestyle stupidity. But the long life Jesus promises is so long it's eternal. But eternal life doesn't start once the casket lid is closed and we're lowered into the grave. It starts now - living today "To the greater glory of God" the Jesuits say. In the East, red signifies a long life.

Blood of Christ, inviting creativity. When he visited Brazil for World Youth Day, the pope told the huge crowds, "Go home to your countries and make a mess." Make a mess!? When we were little children and we had paints and colored chalk and were invited to be creative, we often made a mess in doing so. The color red is the color of creativity That we would make a mess in creating  new ways of announcing God's rule, God's  presence among us, God's desire to love us into becoming new-persons. Red: the color of creativity. 

Blood of Christ, righteous anger. The color red is the color of anger. Do I ever share God's righteous anger? The few Spanish missionaries who were angry about the way the Natives were treated by the colonizers. The few righteous Gentiles who were angry about the way Hitler treated Jews, homosexuals, Poles, handicapped persons, priests. How about being angry about damage-control-lies told by people of power and influence?  But we should get beyond the anger of road rage and see the the red of Christ's Blood as an encouragement to share God's anger about the systems we've created here that degrade, ignore and abuse a lot of the people with whom we share life on this planet.

Blood of Christ, desert flower. We tend to think of the desert as a dead place. But in the spring the desert manifests itself as brilliantly alive with flowers. The picture accompanying the post today is of a small red flower that's broken up through the seemingly dead desert floor. God bringing to life what's dry and lifeless within us!

Blood of Christ, calling to the bride. The traditional color for a bride in the West is white. But in Asia, the color for a bride is red. In Christ, God espouses himself to us. God entering into the heart-to-heart committed relationship of husband and wife. God, bridegroom of the soul (which is feminine).

Blood of Christ, our dawning. There's red in the morning sky - albeit it a rosy, pinkish red. Our dawning. "Ah, it just dawned on me," we might say. We should  look to say that more often, instead of thinking we have to know it all already. When was the last time you heard someone say "You know, I"m sorry, you were right all along" When was the last time you had a new idea (a dawning) about God?

Blood of Christ, God's victory. In ancient Rome, returning victorious generals smeared their faces with red. Christ the victor over sin and death's final insult! And red is the color of the three kinds of plague pustules, the others being black and  yellow. Christ, victor over our dis-ease. What it is that you name as your affliction? Invoke the Blood of Christ!

Blood of Christ, our preference. Red is one of the two colors most preferred by people. Can we imagine what the world would be like if that signified more than just our favorite lipstick or nail polish color. Red - our preference for heaven's truth, heaven's idea of goodness.

Blood of Christ, divine largess. Red signifies the wide and generous bestowal of God's gifts of life and grace. Grace is God sharing God's own energies that make us cooperators and co-creators with God. In the open heart and the bleeding wounds of Christ: head, hands, feet and side, there is God wringing out of himself God's compassion, kind mercy  and desire for our return.

Blood of Christ, all beautiful. The Russian word for red means beautiful. That we would be better detectors of the beauty of our planet. There is a whole other universe around us if we can stop to listen in. I was sitting with a young man recently at a picnic table under a great shade tree. Our conversation was animated, but in one moment we were both quiet and immediately aware that we were surrounded by bird song and that a gentle breeze was moving the willow branches above our heads. Invoke the red Blood of Christ: that we might begin to see each human person as beautiful - at least in what they may become by God's kind love and grace.

Friday, July 26, 2013

But That Thy Blood Was Shed For Me

Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

These are the first two verses of the hymn, Just As I Am, Without One Plea. The great American Evangelist, Billy Graham, ends each  revival with this hymn as people stream down the aisles to the cross, giving their lives to Christ.

The verses sing about the Blood of Jesus which has the power to cleanse us of our sins. Not much is made of sin anymore. Many people are convinced that they don't do much of anything wrong. Pope Paul VI said, "The great sin of our time is our loss of the sense of sin." Many people are good at detecting what's wrong with others but they're blind to their own hatreds, racism, how they burden others - especially their spouses, dishonesty, pride, indifference, injustice. Most of us grew up with a child's Examination of Conscience and never graduated to an adult version. Perhaps the Church has failed people in this regard.

Saint Peter writes in his first letter:
"For you know that the price of our ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in the precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ." 

The J.B. Philips translation says it this way:

"For you must realize  that you have been ransomed from the futile way of living passed on to you by your traditions, but not by any money payment of this passing world. No the price was in fact the life-blood of Christ, the unblemished and unstained lamb of sacrifice."

Most translations speak of the precious blood of the lamb, while the Phillips translation uses life-blood of the lamb. This distinction is perhaps important. For sure, the Blood of Christ washes sin - mine, yours, family, that of this nation and all the nations, the sins of religion. But Saint Peter then goes on throughout his letter, at some length and in some detail, speaking about the new life of the Christian. Indeed the Christian might be so transformed, so much more awake now to the deepest things that are born of attentiveness, consciousness, awake-awareness that he/she might no longer be recognizable or useful to those who knew him previously.

"Indeed your former companions may think it very strange that you no longer join with them in the riotous excesses, and accordingly say all sorts of abusive things about you." (1 Peter 4:4)

So now the prayer of the previous post: I claim the Blood of the Lamb, can be a claim I make for myself as well.

Here's a picture from the Mel Gibson film, The Passion of the Christ, of the centurion ready to spear the side of Jesus as told in the gospels. Traditionally the blood and water that came out from Jesus' side are shown to be two distinct little flows, as if from scratches. But Mel Gibson, using film as his medium, shows the moment of Christ's side being pierced as the spray of a wide angled nozzle, or a woman's water breaking violently, or a geyser. And that flood almost knocks the soldier to his feet as it cascades down on him like a heavy rain. The blood-water mix floods his eyes and as he wipes his face, it is as if he has begun to see. He is stunned by the realization of what's happening. Claim the Blood of the Lamb with that in mind. Indeed, imagine taking the centurion's place as Christ's side and heart are opened. 

I claim the Blood of the Lamb over my home and family.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb over my senses, heart, mind, soul.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb over my relationships, especially where they are troubled.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb into the lives of loved-ones who are addicted.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where my laughter and smile are fake

I claim the Blood of the Lamb over the work I have to do.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb over my life where I am self-destructive or self-injurious.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb into my life where there is discouragement and confusion.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb into my life where there has been loss, abuse or failure.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb into my life where there is predicament or indecision.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb into my life of compulsions and projecting.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb into my life where I know I have not evolved or grown-up inwardly.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I feel burdened or distrusting of myself.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I am gripped in suspicion, fear or where hatred lurks.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I dwell in negativity or cynicism.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I don't admit the truth, even to myself.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I feed on scraps of recognition and power.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where injustice is excused or tolerated..
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where guns matter more than grace.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I buy the propaganda of media, politics, advertising.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I feel there are bombs and guns in my heart.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where my beliefs don't reflect the Christ-Way.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I hang on the words of  political pundits rather than on Christ's Word.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I remain punitive, though I think myself forgiving.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb where I lack courage, for Christ's sake.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb...


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Claim The Blood Of The Lamb

YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS A YOUNG PRIEST, a non-believing doctor I know took up a residency in a major Catholic hospital. He told me that after working late one night he went into the chapel and looked around, following the Stations of the Cross along the side walls. For whatever reason he felt bold enough to comment: "How ridiculous; a God who dies." 

But dies for love! That's not unheard of. A parent would die for the child. Soldiers in war offer their lives for others. Maximilian Kolbe let the Nazi's kill him so that a young family man would be spared. So why not God - loving us incomprehensibly - dying for love of us who were lost to God by our folly: our power-quest, our pride and vanity, our selfishness and violence. Maybe the doctor should have said, "How ridiculous that God would die for the likes of us." 

Maybe we have to see God bleed in order to even begin to get how much we matter to God. When I was a hospital chaplain I met a young dad, covered with severe burns who had rushed back into his flaming home repeatedly to save his two little children.  If that's instinct, it's an instinct that's profoundly interwoven with love. A God who dies - but who dies mysteriously for love of us! And again, the Christian sense of the word mystery is not that there's insufficient light to see, but too much light!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And it's still July: the Month of the Precious Blood of Jesus. It's an invitation to pay attention to this love that bleeds. A Jewish rabbi told me that the reason the Book of Leviticus goes into such detail describing how to make the priest-vestments, is that the temple in Jerusalem was a bloody slaughterhouse with animals being killed all the time, and the blood soaked vestments of the priests therefore needing to be replaced frequently. She also told me that there are groups of Jews in Israel that would like to rebuild the temple and get the whole system of animal sacrifice up and running again.

But Jesus ended all of that when he over-turned the tables of the money changers and those who were selling animals to offer as temple sacrifices. And the Prophet Isaiah, long before Jesus, made it very clear that God was pretty much done with the animal sacrifice system.

"What are your endless sacrifices to me?" says the Lord.
"I am sick of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of calves.
I take no pleasure in the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come and present yourselves before me,
who has asked you to trample through my courts?
Bring no more futile cereal offerings,
the smoke from them fills me with disgust."

Now Jesus is the Lamb. But does that mean God somehow needs blood - especially Jesus' Blood to be somehow satisfied? The Litany of the Precious Blood of Jesus says the Blood of Christ is the price of our salvation and without which there is no pardon. This is hard for us to understand.

But blood means life. When Jesus died on the cross and the soldier pushed the spear into his side, blood came out, and water. Does that tell us Jesus-God was totally emptied of his life for us? And that physiologically, when a man was hanging in crucifixion, a great bag of water developed around the heart, and so when the spear went into the side of Jesus, it was his heart that was speared open - that now in Jesus Crucified we have access to the open heart of God as never before?

I'm thinking of that remarkable and moving scene in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, when the soldier stabbed the spear into the side of Jesus, and such a voluminous spray of bloody water poured out and down onto his  face, that he was stunned and  un-steadied by it.

Maybe then, as we live in a world that disappoints and threatens, that's dangerous and wrong-headed, instead of being resentful about it all, we can invoke the life-giving Blood of Jesus over it: as if to cover the world in God's very life. That kind and compassionate prayer might well act as an antidote, a medicine, a salve, a healing balm for the world's festering and fetid wounds.

This can be our prayer. Look at the picture of our little planet floating in space - so alive in its blue, green and white. But we know that as we come in for a landing, we discover the living sphere to be a place of smoke and flame, horror, tears, death, terror, contradiction, destruction and extinction. Claim the Blood of Jesus the Lamb over all of this, and what else and who else you know. Wherever the planet needs healing.

I claim the Blood of the Lamb for profiteers who destroy the land, the water, the animals and plants.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for religious people with hardened hearts.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for people in authority who protect locked and secret files.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for people who capture children for the sex trade.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for parents who fail their children.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who champion  the rights of all except the rights of the preborn child.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who plan terror and destruction.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for the haters and resenters.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for the countries of greed and waste.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for Christians who disavow justice.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for Americans who curse the poor.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who choose ignorance.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for religious anti-Semites.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for powerful people who tell lies.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who protect self-interests while others die.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for politicians who care for some and not for all.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who snare young people with drugs.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who make a living by death.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for war planners and producers.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who disregard children.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for capitalists who are only self-referred.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for people who are sick with violence and cruelty.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for news-entertainers.
I claim the Blood of the Lamb for those who say, "Well, that's the way it is."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Even the Thorns of Your Life

THIS IMAGE OF SAINT MARTIN DE PORRES was painted by Meltem Aktas and is found in St. Barnabas Church, Beverly, Illinois. Martin was the first mulatto to be canonized a saint for his tremendous and all embracing charity. The branch of a pear tree breaks into the painting and Martin holds and offers the fruit on a blue plate for anyone to take. Pears, heart-shaped, are images of affection and for Christians, they symbolize the love of Jesus for humankind. Take the love, Martin is saying. 

Martin was born in Lima, Peru on December 9, 1579 to Don Juan de Porres, a Spanish nobleman and Ana Velasquez, a Panamanian freed slave. The father was unwilling to officially recognize the boy as his own, as he had inherited the mother's complexion, and so Martin's baptism register records him as illegitimate. As we may imagine, Martin's being presented as an illegitimate mixed-breed impacted him negatively in a 16th century layered society.

Still. the boy and his sister received some education in Ecuador, Martin being apprenticed to a barber which also garnered him skills in the medicine of the day: how to treat wounds and broken bones, prescribe medicine. Apparently he learned from his mother as well, who was an acknowledged herbalist. 

At age fifteen, Martin inquired about being a volunteer at the Dominican Convent of the Holy Rosary in Lima. He asked only for a broom to sweep the floor of the cloister. In time the brothers suggested he take the habit of the Dominican order as a lay brother, ignoring the (sad but true) rule that forbade "Indians, blacks and their descendants" from joining the order.

The testimonies recorded about the life of Martin by people who lived with him give numerous accounts of healing and difficult service: saving the leg of a priest who was about to lose it surgically, sneaking the poor into his cell and letting them sleep in his bed, wondrously feeding people even as the food available was insufficient by all accounts, caring for slaves brought to Peru from Africa, establishing an orphanage and a hospital for unwanted babies. 

The account of Martin's life states repeatedly that it was Martin's humility that so impressed the brothers. But we must remember that Martin came from a marginal place and had likely suffered being belittled, perhaps even abused, likely causing him to become the kind of person who kept his head down and his voice small. It's perhaps more wonderful to say that God brought Martin through this brokenness and inner poverty to great holiness - rather than to suggest that he was simply  infused with the spiritual quality or virtues of holiness. We have the expression: God writes straight with crooked lines. Henri Nouwen would call Martin a wounded healer. That God can pick up the pieces, gather up even the most shredded life, and make of it something bright and redemptive for the world. 

Martin opened a shelter for dogs and cats in his sister's apartment (priests and religious often have the most wonderfully helpful support among family and friends!). It is also attested that in his presence, dogs, cats and rodents ate simultaneously from the same dish. There's no reason to doubt this marvelous story, but it seems to me that it is a sign of the still more wonderful gift he had of reconciling opposites wherever he went.

And so Martin is called the Patron Saint of Justice and Race Relations. Maybe we need to pay close attention to this need for reconciliation in our country these days soon after the Zimmerman trial. There's a lot of hatred in our country. Our president recently asked us all to do some real soul-searching about these things. Sadly, some people missed that request-invitation and instead immediately dissolved into negativity and vitriol after his closing sentence. 

Joy-Ann Reid, an intelligent, articulate, sophisticated African-American political contributor and editor, revealed later, as part of a TV group panel discussion, that on Facebook she is called the N-word so often she feels as if it's every thirty seconds. It makes you wonder if Martin de Porres would even find a friend among some Christians as he had the features and complexion of his dark, slave-mother.

The president asked us to wring as much bias out of ourselves as possible. And Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mother has said, "I don't want to block the blessings from pouring down on me because there was hatred in my heart." Maybe this is why there are so many major problems in our country: the declining test scores of our young people, our addictions, that we can't get out of war, that there's so much poverty still in our country - because we're blocking the blessings with our hatreds. 

This good monk with the children of Garbage Mountain is Brother Roger of Taize (TAY-ZAY), France. Taize is a monastery founded by Roger as an offering to the world - an invitation to healing and reconciliation after the devastation of the Second World War. Pope John XXIII called Taize, that little springtime, because the Christian faith is lived there in such a lovely and fresh way: religious brothers of different Christian faiths praying together, offering hospitality to people from all around the world - especially the young, inviting groups to explore the meaning of the Gospels for our world today especially as the Gospel is a catalyst for healing, reconciliation and unity. And all of this is undertaken and offered in a  great Gospel simplicity and poverty. 

Attempts at unity among Christians of different expressions is called ecumenism. There are people who strongly disapprove of ecumenism because they believe their version of Christianity is the only authentic one and it is for other Christians to realize that. But no one group owns the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We're all only searchers. 

There is a little film about the monastic life at Taize. In the film we see the brothers taking their meal together. at a U shaped table. The food is passed from one end and circles around to the other. We notice that when a bowl arrives at the center, where Brother Roger is seated, he turns to his right and places food on the plate of the brother next to him and only then serves himself.  This sense of taking care of someone else first, of anticipating their need, of looking for their comfort before anything else - this person is called other referred. 

In the Genesis account of Abraham receiving the Three Messengers who will announce the birth of a son, Abraham doesn't even ask if they would care for it - he simply goes off and gets water to wash their feet. In a dusty, dry,  hot desert-world, how kind and other-referred is that!

But how do we become healed and whole persons like Martin and Roger? Roger himself gives us the answer. He says:  "Stay close to the fire which is Christ, and eventually even the thorns of your life will burst into flame." The life of Martin testifies to this: his illegitimacy, poverty and marginalization turned to spiritual-human greatness. 


But what are the thorns of our lives? Thorns hurt, thorns prevent or inhibit our movement, thorns keep us back, thorns draw blood. So the thorns of our lives are detected in our human story: our setbacks, our fatigue and fears, abuse, our losses, the sadness of deep failure, what was needed that was denied, the still -raw inner pain, wrongs that need to be righted. 

Stay close to the fire...

  • Find a community where life and  faith are shared. We don't have to go to France! Jesus makes community happen wherever he goes.
  • "If you've got gratitude, you've got the whole of the spiritual life," a priest-friend told me.
  • Get free of the cultural way of  me, me, me, me, me...that sticks to us.
  • Get hatred out of your heart.
  • Beauty heals and puts spirit in us. This planet is God's Paradise.
  • Find that place where the veil between heaven and earth is most thin for you.
  • Read the lives of saints and God-heroes.
  • Practice some prayer discipline. The 150 psalms of the Old Testament are spiritual medicine.
  • If your Christian faith tradition includes the Eucharist (Holy Communion) - return to it often.
  • Give God the space that comes with some experience of silence each day.
  • Some Christians don't get this - but Mary isn't in the Jesus-story just to make Christmas sweeter. I know a young man who was an angry, addicted non-believer and who claims  the Rosary was his doorway to recovery and sobriety! Mary creates a beautiful atmosphere of receptivity around Jesus.
  • Do everything you can to get Christ into your life; there is everything to take him away!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tarcisius and Father Ragheed Ganni

Tarcisius was a young, perhaps teen-aged Christian, who lived in Rome during the 3rd century Valerian persecution. Apparently he was asked, or he volunteered himself, to take the Sunday Eucharist to imprisoned Christians. Perhaps it was thought a priest would be too obvious, but a young messenger boy would be allowed in.

Along the ancient Appian Way he encountered a group of other young people, maybe school mates, who questioned him about what he seemed to be concealing in his clothes. It's hard to know what happened next, but the account is that they assumed (rightly) that Tarcisius was hiding the Christian Mysteries, as the Eucharist was called, and they beat him to death when he would not reveal it to them.

The marble sculpture of Alexandre Falguiere c 1868, which is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, depicts Tarcisius in his dying, holding the Sacrament safely. The bullies have fled, as they tend, to do.

Tarcisius is often invoked as a patron for young children who are receiving their First Holy Communion. That's a lovely connection, but there is more. He is carrying the mystery of the Christians, which is not simply the Eucharistic Elements, but he is carrying goodness itself. And he carries that mystery of goodness in a menacing, bullying, dangerous, life threatening world. Only a few people are elected to take the Eucharist into the prisons and jails of the world, but we're all called, and not just the baptized, to carry goodness. And the life of Tarcisius says, "As you carry goodness, you can expect trouble."

This is a picture of Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni. On June 3, 2007 he, along with three sub-deacons, Basman Yousef Daoud, Wadid Hanna and Ghasan Bida Wid were murdered while leaving the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul, Iraq after an evening Mass. When he was pulled from his car, he was pressed to the ground with his arms spread out. The leader of the militant group yelled at him, "I told you to close this church!" Father Ganni answered, "I cannot close the house of God." And he was shot dead.

The week before his death he text-ed a friend saying, "The situation here is worse than hell. We are on the verge of collapse." He was referring to the predicament of Christians living in Mosul under the threats of Islamic extremists who had in mind to exterminate all Christians throughout the country. The Chaldean Christian community is one of the oldest forms of Christianity in the world. In the months preceding Father Ganni's murder, his church of the Holy Spirit was bombed several times.

I'd like to nominate Father Ragheed and his sub-deacon companions as the Patron Saints of Goodness Carriers!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. Catholics reference the four cardinal virtues from which the others flow: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. Virtue grows through education, deliberate acts and perseverance in struggle. And if we truly desire to lived a virtuous life, we can trust God to give us the grace (the leg up) to make that transformation.

But many people learn best when they're given examples. Here are some examples of goodness, or invitations to lived-goodness, for our own time:

  • Cheating and stealing: "Everybody does it," but you don't. That's carrying goodness.
  • During and after her testimony in court during the Zimmerman trial, Rachel Jeantel was mocked and insulted all around the world via the media. Even the defense attorney's daughter got in on it. And you stood in solidarity with Rachel, who was testifying on behalf of her friend who was killed. That's carrying goodness.
  • Pope Pius XII said, "Never make a man choose between his Church and his country. He will almost always choose his country." And for you, the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5,6,7  and Matthew 25 take precedent in your life. That's carrying goodness.

  • Recently, Trayvon Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, has spoken publicly after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of her son. She said, "I don't want to block the blessings from coming down because I've got hatred in my heart." To forgive, when seemingly everyone else is telling you how to get even - to forgive when you find yourself rehearsing the old wound-stories over and over again. That's carrying goodness.
  • To be really pro-life and not just anti-abortion: that every baby would be welcomed - yes, but also becoming non-violent, opposed to the  militarization of our planet, opposed to capital punishment, sensitive to the issues surrounding the life of the planet itself, aware that in our own country there's serious poverty, that I wring out all the bias within me. That's carrying goodness.
  • For you, it's no longer acceptable that every three hours in our country, a child or young person is killed by a gun. That's carrying goodness.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Learning Mercy

THE WORD "RADICAL" COMES FROM THE LATIN, radix, which means root. Last Sunday's Gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), like the Crucifix itself, is a radical teaching, getting to the root of  what it means to claim friendship with Jesus. Indeed, the startling, utter nakedness of the mugged Jewish traveler in Aime Morot's painting indicates this: this story is the stripped down, naked truth of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

That the story has lost its punch and its message reduced to being helpful and nice, might be indicated in that most of the pictures in the image search for this post are intended for children. Some are even cartoons and advertisements for Sunday School theater and little picture books for young students.

The story is a shocker. Jesus may well have meant it for polite, pious, church-goers. Maybe he had the future clergy of the Church in mind. Why not? Pope Francis recently told the Cardinals of the Church to stop acting like princes and the priests to get out and smell the sheep. So what's so wild about Jesus' story? Jesus has made a heretic the hero of his story. What religious leader does that?

Jews didn't like Samaritans. Everything Samaritans did was wrong: they worshiped on the wrong mountain. They read an incomplete bible, their worship was incorrect. The story takes place between Jericho and Jerusalem. This means the two good Jews, priest and Levite, who miss the mercy-moment are either going to or coming from worship - Jerusalem being the holy city. Jerusalem equals worship, piety, devotion, religious observance. They pass their wounded, exhausted  countryman - their neighbor - who is in very bad shape after a terrible mugging. But the loser-Samaritan-heretic stops, interrupts his own plans, begins the healing, lays out his money and goes the extra mile. 

And Jesus tells the inquirer who started the conversation, "Go and do likewise." It echoes another conversation Jesus had about mercy, when he was up against some trouble making clerics - "Go and learn the meaning of these words, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,'"(Matthew 9:13).

But what is mercy? Saint Isaac of Syria tells us. And we need to read these few lines again and again.

"What is a heart of mercy? It is the heart of him  who burns with pity for all creation. He looks at the creatures and his eyes are filled with tears. His heart is filled with deep compassion and limitless patience. He overflows with tenderness and cannot bear to see or hear any evil or the least grief endured by the creature." 

Let's not get heady or theoretical about it: mercy is tears. Mercy starts with the eyes of the heart. Mercy is, to use Pope John Paul II's preferred word: solidarity. And Jesus is telling us that we may expect to witness mercy in persons and places un-expected, even shocking to our sensibilities. It takes a spiritually mature and genuinely humble person to acknowledge and accept this.

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings frequently meet in church basements. At any meeting we'd likely meet people who are rough around the edges, smokers, drug and alcohol users, people with prison records, law-breakers, the dirty-mouthed, those who have no religious interest or who might even be resentful of religion. But by the end of any meeting, a newcomer will have a fist-full of new phone numbers, been the recipient of the warmest embraces, been invited for coffee, conversation and help any time; any where. It's often said, There's more real Christianity downstairs in the church than upstairs. 

In the mid 1980's  I was  chaplain to a University Hospital, as the AIDS epidemic was advancing rapidly. It was a terrible time for so many people. I heard from the social workers, who were on the front lines, that in the big cities, where gay people often migrate to live un-hassled lives,  gay men were taking in strangers who were dying of AIDS: friends of friends, co-workers, someone living in another apartment in the building. These were often people who had been dis-inherited, or whose family was out of state, or who had lost their helpful contacts when they started to manifest AIDS complications. These Good Samaritans took them in and nursed them until they died. 

Jesus is suggesting to pious Jews, to pious Christians, that mercy can be learned outside our own religious circle - where we might least expect: Welcoming the stranger. Caring for the sick. Sheltering the homeless. Some people will understand this; others not. 

I'd suggest an even more contemporary example. While the country rages about same sex marriage, thousands upon thousands of gay couples continue to adopt the special needs children - the throw away children - of straight people. Is there something to learn from this community - especially those who call themselves pro-life? Some people will say that gay people shouldn't be allowed to adopt in the first place. But the numbers are coming in now, and those children adopted and raised by gay people seem to be doing remarkably well, academically, socially, emotionally. 

Back to Aime Morot's le Bon Samaritain: the Samaritan has become an extension of the heavily burdened little donkey. Their feet all but touch. Look carefully at the Samaritan's legs - his feet ground him in the Mercy-Truth - the naked truth about following the Christ-Way. It's not about Church politics. It's not about Church debates over the liturgy. It's not about (as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out) all the things the Church is known for saying no to. It's not about business as usual - parish meeting, after fruitless parish meeting. It's about a new heart:

"What is a heart of mercy? It is the heart of her who burns with pity for all creation. She looks at the creatures and her eyes are filled with tears. Her heart is filled with deep compassion and limitless patience. She overflows with tenderness and cannot bear to see or hear any evil or the least grief endured by the creature."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Like the dew fall...

ONE OF THE CHANGES IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH during the mid 1960's was that the Mass prayers could be celebrated in the vernacular - the language of the people. And so the Latin prayers were rather quickly translated into English in the United States. Those translations were often rather bland and lacking in nuance and poetic sense. So about two and a half years ago, a new translation of the missal went into effect which offered a more authentic translation of the Latin. But before the new book appeared, there was for a variety of reasons, tremendous speculation about the translation, with many priests taking a cynical view of the project.

All of the priests I spoke with said that the translation was out of touch with ordinary people - honing in on one line that appears early on in the Second Eucharistic Prayer:

"Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray,
by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dew fall, 
so that they may become for us the Body and Blood
of our Lord, Jesus Christ."

Rather than seizing the teachable moment - how and why we may liken the Spirit's descent to dew fall - the clergy regrettably landed firmly in the bitter place, recent polls indicating their continued dissatisfaction. But there's a lot to learn spiritually from this dew fall image, which I personally think is quite lovely. But before exploring how the image is a spiritually rich one, I've invited an Earth Science teacher-friend to offer  a reminder of what dew is and how it's wonderfully formed. Read on!

During the day, water evaporates into the air. From lakes, ponds, rivers, etc. Warm air can hold more water vapor (water as an invisible gas) than cooler air. During the night, the air temperature goes down as heat is lost. Air also cools as it rises to higher elevations, but through a different process. The cooler air no longer has the capacity to hold this water vapor. When air is cooled to a certain temperature, the water vapor is released as tiny water droplets. This is called condensation. It is why we get clouds high in the sky. It is why we get fog early in the morning. The temperature at which all this happens is called the dew point temperature.
Think of the air like a sponge. You can only add so many drops of water to a sponge before it is saturated and cannot hold another drop. The it drips. Same with air. It can only hold so many molecules of water vapor before it is fully saturated.Then the water vapor has to go somewhere, so it comes out of the air as water droplets. The temperature of the air determines how much it can hold. 
So when objects, such as the windshield of a car, or blades of grass cool faster than the surrounding air, the air that comes into contact with them is cooled to its dew point temperature and condensation occurs so that the water droplets form on them. We call this water dew. And the formation of dew is called dew fall. Dew has to form on something. This is the same reason that a glass of ice water "sweats" on a hot summer day. The cold glass is cooling the surrounding air and the water from the air is condensing on the outside of the glass. This is the same as dew fall.  If condensation occurs when the temperature is below freezing, the water vapor becomes frost instead of dew.

Clearly, in inviting the Spirit to descend like dew fall,  so to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Spirit is being invoked and celebrated as the agent of change. A Jungian analyst told me that the Catholic Church must never abandon the Eucharistic understanding of Transubstantiation, as there is nothing in our culture any longer which invites transformation in people. Transubstantiation is the teaching that the bread and wine become the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

What may strike us at once is that the dew is very beautiful . Indeed, it makes what is already beautiful, even more so. We might say then that the Spirit of God, descending like dew fall, comes to us as beautifier.

Spirit of God, beautifying dew fall - compassion-ate our thoughts.
Spirit of God, beautifying dew fall - soften our souls with mercy.
Spirit of God, beautifying dew fall - refresh our nation with new welcoming energies.
Spirit of God, beautifying dew fall - descend with your gift of peace.
Spirit of God, beautifying dew fall - make us glad.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

See how the clear drops of dew act as little magnifying lenses on the leaf's surface. We might say then, that the Spirit of God, descending like dew fall, comes to us as magnifier.

Spirit of God, magnifying dew fall - increase our sense of solidarity with the rest of the world.
Spirit of God, magnifying dew fall - amplify our desire to learn.
Spirit of God, magnifying dew fall - expand consciousness in us.
Spirit of God, magnifying dew fall - descend to grow praise and gratitude here.
Spirit of God, magnifying dew fall - please, the gift of laughter born of joyful hearts.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

See how the dew collects and refracts light. We might say then, that the Spirit of God, descending like the dew fall, comes to us as a refractor - the one who displays and distributes light.

Spirit of God, light-refracting dew fall - shed your light upon my path.
Spirit of God, light-refracting dew fall - enlighten our innermost being.
Spirit of God, light-refracting dew fall - that we would see the others rightly.
Spirit of God, light-refracting dew fall - dispel our dark suspicions.
Spirit of God, light-refracting dew fall - make us to walk as children of the light.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dew is the drink of insects and small animals. Rabbits obtain much of their water by licking the dew off of the morning grass. We might say then, that the Spirit of God, descending like the dew fall, comes to us as a life initiator and sustainer.

Spirit of God, life-sustaining dew fall - that I may live an authentic human life to your glory.
Spirit of God, life-sustaining dew fall - initiate growth where I am inwardly dry.
Spirit of God, life-sustaining dew fall - reminder of my origins in the womb.
Spirit of God, life-sustaining dew fall - refreshing touch of my Baptism.
Spirit of God, life-sustaining dew fall - nourish the new Christ-person in me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dew is a reflector. Here in this photo, the little universe of the garden where the dew formed is reflected. We can imagine the whole of the universe is somehow wondrously reflected in dew fall. We might say, that the Spirit of God, descending like dew fall, comes to us as reflector of divine and human things.

Spirit of God, reflecting dew fall - so we would reveal the divine image that is ours.
Spirit of God, reflecting dew fall - come down for our right-seeing.
Spirit of God, reflecting dew fall - I want to reflect goodness.
Spirit of God, reflecting dew fall - inviting discovery again and again.
Spirit of God, reflecting dew fall - Awaken-er!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Before The Icon Of The Mandylion: The Holy Face of Jesus

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME IF I THINK THINGS are worse today than they were fifty or sixty years ago? It often seems  we are devolving. I detect a troubling depth of pain in people, especially young people. Mother Teresa of Calcutta spoke of our poverty here as much deeper than that of India, as our poverty is so often spiritual, relational and psychological. Often we don't recognize or work with our inner poverty and pain, choosing instead to self-medicate with media, food, sex, drugs, self-pity or the rush of anger. That our young people are cutting themselves, especially our girls,  gives evidence that something is terribly dis-ordered and broken.

But life needn't be this way. We can be restored and made whole. Carl Jung reflected on this suggesting that the answer to our real problems - the problems that steal sleep away; that cause us to cry silently alone; the problems that make us feel  weak, ashamed or even crushed - the cure is a spiritual one.

Surely we need more than a fuzzy or soupy spirituality. And while the churches are often not helpful in this regard, still, when speaking with a new client, Jung would ask people about any religion in their lives, sending them back to synagogue or church, as there is a symbol system there which might be recovered and helpful. I understand. And it is the intention of this blog, with each post, to go to that deeper, often unexplored symbol-place, to point to it, to enter into it more deeply than we may have before, especially in the years when we were children. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

God had the thought of  me. God's heartbeat conceived me. God has called me out of non-being into existence - even calling me by name. And - God has gone to a great deal of trouble to reveal this to me, drawing as near as possible and becoming one of us in love, in Jesus Christ: God with a human face like our own.

And even though we can't fathom being loved so intensely and personally, God continues to love us mother-like, putting God's life into our hands, bleeding for us as mothers do in giving birth to their children - Jesus, who has taken the great risk of loving; the risk of rejection.

There's an extra-biblical story that focuses on this face of Jesus and which invites us to enter the story of personal healing. It is the story of God's interface with each of us and all of us in Christ. Hear the story of King Abgar of Edessa:

Abgar was sick to death and sent word for Jesus to come to Edessa to heal him. Instead of visiting, Jesus imprinted a cloth with the image of his own face and sent it to Abgar for his healing. That cloth was found hidden inside a wall in 545 and transferred to Constantinople in 944 where it was venerated in Hagia Sophia until 1204. All trace of it has since been lost, though some identify it with the mysterious and wonderful image of Manoppello venerated in Chieti, Italy. That miraculous image forms the basis for the countless copies which have been painted even to today.

Look deeply at the Mandylion Face of Jesus - the image not made by human hands, depicted with the most tender delicacy. Jesus' face is all-welcome, healing-love, and bright-joy. 

Apparently this blog is read all over the world. So here, the healing face of Jesus is being sent around our weary planet - with the prayer thoughts I've written and send with a priest's blessing for our encouragement, joy and restoration.

When Abgar fell ill and all else failed,
and life had become bitter, 
he knew to ask for healing,
health and happiness restored,
believing that Jesus is God among us!

And when Jesus sent the face-imprinted cloth to Abgar
who was sick to death,
the king took consolation in the face of Jesus,
and was healed and made whole again.
Jesus, God among us!

And when I am sick with burdens,
furiously angry,
devoid of resources,
a stranger even to myself,
with Abgar,
believing that in Jesus Christ,
God is among us,
I can cry out,
Jesus, show me your face,
your golden face.

I contemplate the soft smile of Jesus.
While I am wasted,
horrified at my own ignorance
and rebellion,
suffering in a great pit of hatred,
even self-hatred,
I look at the Holy Face;
Jesus who has a smile for me too.

Though I may find this impossible to believe:
because of my stubborn will
and foolish refusals to return love,
my pride and lies,
my squandering and exploitation,
Jesus has a smile even for me.

Though I have done things
for which I daily condemn myself,
feeling beyond God's reach and sight,
I may have even touched the things of death -
a self-proclaimed enemy of God,
now gazing upon the face of divine energies,
Jesus has a smile especially for me.

The wide open eyes of Jesus are intense.
The eyes that returned the gaze
of his own dear Mother.
Jesus sees me as family too!

The eyes that greeted the shepherds 
of Christmas night;
that greet me too.

The eyes met by the woman who
had been bent over for eighteen years,
and was cured by the word of Jesus.
Free me from the burden of what I think life is
and straighten me up as I stand before your gaze.

These are the eyes the once-blind man
looked into when Jesus returned his sight.
Sight for me too, Jesus!
Sight that allows me to see myself as you see me in love!
Sight that allows me to see all the others rightly,
as they are your children too!

The eyes of Jesus are awake to me,
to my past, present and future.
I am reflected and held in these eyes,
eyes that searched for the lost sheep,
eyes that anticipated the return of the wasted boy who had run away,
eyes that saw all human sin from the cross, and Jesus said,
"Father forgive..."

The eyes of Jesus see our deliberate wrong choices,
the eyes that see into board rooms
where wars are planned,
where deals are hatched,
where lies are concocted,
where evil foments.

The eyes of Jesus see me where I flirt with danger,
where terrifying thoughts of violence hide within.
Still, he sees me as I was the day of my conception,
my birth,
in innocence,
in pure nakedness,
all goodness.
Jesus sees me as his own dear child;
sees me as a mother watches her children, as when
"God saw everything that  had been made, and behold it was very good" 

The Israelites having escaped from Egyptian slavery
encamped by the sea.
But Pharaoh, regretting their freedom, sought their return
and pursued them with soldiers, warriors,
chariots and horses.
In great fright and complaint the Israelites
despaired of God's help,
who told them, stand your ground and do not fear.

Instructed by the Lord, Moses stretched out his staff 
and the sea divided,
allowing God's people to walk through on dry land,
with walls of water to left and right,
while the Egyptians followed in a furious pursuit.
Then through the fiery cloud the Lord cast a glance
upon the Egyptian forces and threw them into a panic,
clogging their chariot wheels so they could no longer drive.
Then the Egyptians, sounding the retreat, sought to escape
but Moses stretched out his hand over the sea
which flowed back upon the Egyptians to its normal depth.

Now Christ casts a glance upon the enemies
which pursue me,
granting me freedom from inner slavery; 
offering hope for a new life.

The eyebrows and slender nose of Jesus
are a palm tree
under which we may find shade from the deadly heat
of our malaise
happy ignorance,
our vanity and 
circumscribed living,
the hell of non-communion with God and others.

Jesus invites: come away and rest:
rest from the endless homage we pay to helpless idols,
rest from warring with God,
rest from our darkened national conscience,
rest from the frantic search for belonging and acceptance,
rest from the race to satisfaction, escape, and perpetual fun.

The mind of Jesus is large:
he knows the names 
and concerns of all those who are dear to me.
He knows my thoughts and fears,
my exhausting anxieties,
my inner arguments,
my mourning for the loss of goodness and innocence,
my turning away.

He knows all about the abuse,
the suffering at the hands of others,
and the abuse I may have foisted,
even perhaps upon the animals and the plants,
even myself
in an angry revenge.
And so I cry out:
Jesus, God among us,
Help me!
Heal me!
Jesus, forgive!

The silent mouth of Jesus is small, 
not used for carnal things.
It is the silence of inner strength.
Silent in his listening.
Jesus, inviting me to prayer,
set a guard over my mouth!
Silent Jesus, embodying love!

Then this is the mouth that called
out before the tomb,
"Lazarus, come out."

The mouth that spoke to the widowed-mother
of the dead boy at Nain,
"Do not be afraid."

The mouth that said to the lifeless child at Capernaum,
"Talitha cum," "Little girl, get up"

And so I cry out: Jesus, raise me up too from my present death!

Listen now.
Be perfectly still.
Calm yourself and gaze upon the face of Jesus,
not made by human hands.
The nimbus circle around his face invites:
Stay here,
no need to run away;
nothing to fear.

Jesus said, I call you my friends;
I am light for this dark world.
I have come that you may have joy completely.
I am the way, truth and life.

Life and joy for me too, Jesus, no less than for the diseased
and dying Abgar!

Concentric grooves in Jesus' hair,
like rings of growth in a tree's trunk.
And so Jesus, grow-me-up:
surrounded by love,
returning of love,
protected from evil,
preserved from dark threats,
even from death!