Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a Sycamore tree to see him."

Last Sunday the gospel tax collector had no name. Today the featured tax collector is named Zacchaeus.  And Zacchaeus, we're told, "sought to see who Jesus was." This suggests he's not just caught up in the crowd's enthusiasm, but he's interested in Jesus. Perhaps he's heard of Jesus' teaching or reports of Jesus' miracles.

But he's short and so runs ahead and climbs a sycamore tree in order to get a better view. The Sycamore tree is mentioned only this once in the New Testament, so we ought to pay attention to its meaning. Sycamores appear in the stories of ancient gods and goddesses. They symbolize growth, the pursuit of truth, bounty, protection and redemption. To understand the wisdom of the gods, the sycamore must be climbed mystically. And so here is Zacchaeus climbing the Sycamore to see Jesus. 

We can imagine that Zaccaheus took a ribbing from others because he was short. But that doesn't stop him from running and climbing the tree. I'd say the evangelist Luke intends that we find the scene funny: this little rich guy, running in cumbersome robes, balancing himself on a branch hanging over the road and peering out through the leaves. Kind of silly: "Zacchaeus, you're ridiculous." Zacchaeus, you look like a fool." "Zacchaeus, you're pathetic."

Jesus knows he's up in the tree. He also knows what's on the the tax collector's mind. And instead of rolling his eyes and laughing at him, Jesus calls him to come down and invites himself to dinner. In the Middle-Eastern world, dinner was an occasion of great intimacy and friendship. Jesus seems to reward Zacchaeus for taking the risk of looking ridiculous for his sake. 

Matthew Kelty was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At one point in his monastic life he was given permission to try an experimental community of six monks living in the greatest simplicity in the woods of Piedmont, North Carolina. Seven miles from town, the monks set out to create an environment of deep, prayerful serenity. They maintained the meatless diet of Trappists as a witness to non-violence and otherwise grew their own food. They learned weaving to make a living and welcomed numerous guests despite the rugged, no-frills lifestyle of the place. Needless to say, there were more than a few people who thought the monks were ridiculous, giving up the securities that come with living in a large, established monastic house.

Here's a section from Matthew Kelty's book Flute Solo, in which he describes a new depth of a Zacchaeus-like foolishness for a greater good or truth:

During our years in the Piedmont there was a great deal of anguish in the country over the war in Vietnam. Our concern was both with the lack of strong protest from the Catholic Church and the need to stress the monk as man identified with peace. We felt that many monks were insensitive to the moral implications of genuine patriotism. A lot of discussion led to a small decision; to have the phone removed. We had learned that the phone tax was a specific war tax, and perhaps the only one. Though we could have refused to pay it, we decided to go a step further and dispense with the phone altogether. Doing so turned out to be a blessing. It was sometimes an inconvenience, but we had peace. A six-foot wall around the place would not have assured us more privacy.

What creative monks - like Zaccaheus! But every Christian can do something ridiculous so to pursue wisdom, truth, goodness, redemption (which is not the same as going to heaven). Any ideas?

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector ~ Names Matter

Here is a fresco depicting last Sunday's Gospel: the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee has the bible scrolls right at hand while reminding God of his spiritual success. A great fish in the lower right corner opens its mouth wide to swallow him up for his presumption. 

Behind him, the Tax Collector has just stumbled in with his money bag hanging off his belt. He carries a weapon into God's house: not cool. Above them both the painter has added his own detail - an angel weeping, so grieved by the Pharisee's pious show. Here's the text of  Jesus' Gospel Parable, followed by some homily thoughts.

Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'
   "But the tax collector, standing far off, wold not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
   "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."  Luke 18:9-14

Good teacher that he is, Jesus is the master of stories that tell us how it is with God and God's rule. The stories usually employ things from everyday life with which people would be familiar: seed, sheep, coins, different kinds of ground, pearls and treasure. Jesus' stories also reveal that he had keen insights into what makes human beings tick. And so this parable is simply about two men. We don't have to figure out the meaning of the story; we're told at the end: "...for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles humbles himself will be exalted."

But I'd suggest there is something to this story that is even more fundamental. The guy up front doesn't even know the fellow in the back. Maybe he's seen him at the tax office, but in his pious prayer he refers to the man as "this" - "this tax collector." 

This reference with no name lays out that there is a great human divide. And this attitude of division trips off his tongue. It's acceptable to him: "This one," "That one," "Them." 

Some months ago there was a picture from Syria of a five year old boy, shell shocked, bleeding and covered with dust, after his home was bombed. We see him stunned and sitting in the back of the ambulance. And as attention getting as the picture was already, when the news media revealed some days later that the boy's name is Omran Dagneesh, the photo became even more upsetting, more urgent,  troubling and personal.

Omran Dagneesh

When I was a young priest I was told by parishioners there was a man living in the woods under some boards and branches. When I asked the pastor if we could house him for the winter in our empty convent of twenty bedrooms, he said, "No, there are insurance issues."

I don't doubt there were insurance issues, but we should have sought out the man anyway, and at least learned his name and heard his story to see what we might do for him, if not house him. Emphasis on learn his name.

I'm thinking of a twenty year old young man who when he re-located to his college-town started going to daily Mass each morning in the nearby cathedral. After a year he told me, "No one ever came near me to say hello or to ask for my name." But we might well imagine a group on the church steps afterwards talking about "that boy who comes to Mass everyday."

At the heart of our religion is name. God says, "I have called you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43:1 And in another place: "God knows the number of the stars and calls each one by name." Isaiah 40:26 And if God can name each of the stars, how much more surely God knows my name; your name.

David is a flight steward who says that even though he wears a name tag no ever uses his name - indeed, the folks boarding don't even return his greeting. Using someone's name suggests we know we're all on common ground.

We'll likely all be in a store or restaurant this week and the cashier or server will be wearing a name tag. Maybe we could surprise that person by using his/her name at some point. There is a Gospel precedent you know: "Zacchaeus, come down out of that tree; I mean to have dinner at your house tonight." Luke 19:5

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Intercessions ~ Thirty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Aleksey Stemmer ~ First Frost

These last days of the Jubilee Year of Mercy/ we pray for Pope Francis,/ asking for him/ the continued blessings of safety and strength./ And that we would understand the breadth of God's kind-mercy,/ and live it./ We pray to the Lord.

With the approach of colder weather/ we pray perhaps to live more interior lives,/ resisting consumerism/ and the holiday's hectic pace/ which can leave us tired and un-reflective./ We pray to the Lord.

We offer prayers for people who have lost home or job,/ For the children who are waiting to be adopted./ For those who have made themselves sick with worry./ For the elderly who are alone./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for Christians who spend little time with Christ./ For anyone who feels trapped./ For families in crisis./ For those who are forgotten or rejected./ We pray to the Lord.

Election Day approaches./ We ask forgiveness for any divisiveness,/ arrogance or offense that has gotten inside of us these long months./ We ask for the nation/ a new spirit of healing and reconciliation./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for our planet,/ often spoiled by hard-heartedness,/ greed and even willful ignorance./ Give us new hearts/ to safeguard the world's people,/ the plants,/ the animals,/ the air,/ the water and ground./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant us what we need for our own salvation,/ and for all who have died this week:/ that endless life where everything is made clear./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mother of God ~ Who Is Like Dew

When I find an icon of the Mother of God without a title, I like to name her myself, bringing her forward here with thoughts and prayers. So I will bestow the title Mother of God ~ Who Is Like Dew on this 13th century Byzantine icon of Mary, un-named and seated on a throne. The English to French translator makes the title very beautiful. She is Mere de Dieu ~ Comme la Rosee.

And while we notice many details about this Mere de Dieu: her royal-red shoes, the double pillows, the printed fabric of her throne and admiring angels, we notice all the more, that instead of looking at us directly, Jesus and Mary are looking off to the side, as if to the margins. What's got their attention over there? Who do they see?

And while we're not shown who they are looking at, or maybe looking for, we're free to imagine. Perhaps in this disturbing election time they are looking at the margins of our nation where there is now so much estrangement, contention, division and un-pleasantness. I'll ask her to come down like moisture on the heat and the dryness of it all.

Mother of God, drop down dew: 
on the aridity of our discourtesy,
our vulgarity,
our passions.

Revive us: 
in our debating,
our arguing,
 our slander.

Enlivening dew:
in the desert of our unkindness,
 the desert of our cruelty,
the desert of our hatred.

Open, moisture-laden-cloud:
over the dryness of our resentments,
our insults,
our bigotry.

Mother, who is like dew:
to refresh our thinking,
our speaking,
how we see each other. 

Enlivening dew:
begin for us a new day of collaboration,
a new day of reconciliation,
a new day of loving each other.

comfort us in our sorrow,
in our instability,
in our anxieties.

Mother of God:
healing dew in the sickness of our distrust,
of our accusations,
 our self-degradation.

Mother of God Who is Like Dew:
in the wasteland of our party-spirit,
our demonizing,
and our blaming.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Pondering October Aspens

This is an Aspen Grove with snow on Soapstone Summit in the Uinta Mountains, Utah. It's said that Aspens are the largest living organism on earth because all the trees in a grove are really one, each connected to the others by lateral roots.

Aspens delight us twice when we're near them: each leaf attached to a long, flat stem, causes the trees seemingly to tremble or quiver in a breeze. This quaking of many thousands of leaves produces a clicking sound that is pleasant and comforting. Get-atta-here, there's even a name for this leaf-shivering: psithurism.

Maybe the Prophet Isaiah had groves of trembling Aspens in mind when he wrote this verse. 

For you will go out with joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Isaiah, 55:12

When Isaiah writes, "You will be led out" he is thinking of the Jews being led out from their exile and brought safely by God to a new place. We might consider our own inner exile and discovering ourselves anew after some time of loss, disconnect or loneliness. 

Here's Gordy Thomas' audio/visual ode to Aspens. Nice song. Amazing photos of these wonderful trees: a piece of our paradise planet. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

"Grip His pierced hand..."

Ole Hallesby was a Norwegian, Lutheran Theologian who lived from 1879-1961. He offers us this encouragement and invitation.

Jesus is moved every time He sees you appreciate what He has done for you. Grip His pierced hand and say to Him, "I thank you, Savior, because you have died for me." Thank Him likewise for all the other blessings He has showered upon you from day to day. It brings joy to Jesus.

Here's a stream of consciousness prayer while on last week's monastery retreat ~ thanking Jesus for the blessings.

Planted along the edge of the monastic cemetery,
   the brilliant maple glowing,
   like hot coals.

Hemlocks through the second-floor window,
   the bluest of skies between the branches.
   The top of the Aspen quivers ~
   the under-leaf is silver.

Ordination retreat here thirty seven years ago.
   Pierre, Bruno, Gabriel and John were monks then.
   Now Michael, Antonio, Justin,
   Francis Michael and Luke have joined.

Pre-dawn Matins
   Later ~
   Lauds in sunlight
   Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart ~
   hymns and psalms,
   silence at breakfast,
   honey and cider.

Morning tea and
   the wild orchard,
   the house full of guests.

Winter-wear sheep,
   hundreds riding green waves,
   the ram with curled horns,
   three donkeys for alarm,

April's lambs
   move with the sun,
   gathering in the dark time,
   like monks at Compline.

Some guests run out with cameras and phones
   to photograph the low,
   full moon
   which lights up the meadows
   as the sheep settle in.

Medieval Mary in the undercroft,
   holding me up these many years.
   For the longings of my heart.
   the strugglers I've met,
   for compassion-ated hearts.

For the animals and plants ~
   consolation when the humans have gone mad.

For the gift-ing of senses:
  Athos incense
  wet yellow leaves
  a tangerine at dinner
  the vesper bell
  taking hold of the chalice with the cloisonne base.

The Philippine monk of the Sunday sermon:
   Our life of prayer was set in motion
   when God blew breath into our clay.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Golden Leaf of Forgiveness

Benedictine Monasteries are known as such because they follow the 5th century rule of Saint Benedict. The fourth principle of that community rule is that the monastery must cultivate a spirit of forgiveness among the brothers. Forgiveness is the glue that prevents the community from devolving into divisions and even violence or dissolution. 

Does it matter whether monks live this way? For sure, as monks are supposed to be living examples that it's possible for all of us to live harmoniously and in the Gospel-way of Jesus. At the heart of Jesus' way is forgiveness, probably the hardest requirement of Christian living. That's why I'm calling it the Golden Leaf: in a nasty world, dropping resentments and getting on with loving people is golden

Forgiving the offender does't mean, "Hey, no problem, don't worry about it. Let's go on a cruise together." On the contrary, being cheated, slandered, abused, neglected, tricked, manipulated, lied to, ripped off (we get the picture) is a problem. So then what does forgiveness mean? 

Forgiving someone means: "From the bottom of my heart (and I may have to reach down as deep as that to find it) I simply wish you well. I wish you all good. I wish you health, peace, change of heart, growth in goodness, salvation, success..." To wish this for anyone is loving.

And if I can't do this, but at least want to be able to wish someone well, I have made a start. We grow, with God's help. It's important as well to remember, that I'm as vulnerable and as capable of error and folly as the next guy. Indeed, some of us have a keen awareness of our own errors over the years and having been the recipient of someone else's forgiveness. In which case, forgiving someone is just a variation on the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. 

The Golden Leaf: Dropping resentments and extending forgiveness: "I wish you well."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Intercessions ~ Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Pharisee has only negative opinions of the Publican in the Gospel today./ We pray for the Church/ and that we would welcome,/ know,/ love and serve each other well./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday is the Jewish Feast of Sukkot,/ when Jews pray for the world in all of its need./ We join them,/ aware of those places where there is great suffering and pain,/ disharmony and fear./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday is the Feast of St. Evaristus,/ fourth Bishop of Rome,/ successor to St. Peter./ We pray for Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict./ For their safety,/ health and strength./ And for pilgrims to Rome/ as the Year of Mercy will soon end./ We pray to the Lord.

For those who do evil things./ For anyone who is blood-thirsty,/ deceitful/ or who loves war./ We ask for the healing of our country,/ and for the well-being of family,/ friends/ and children everywhere./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who have nothing to celebrate,/ no happy or good memories./ We ask blessings for peacemakers,/reconcilers and advocates of mercy and justice./ For the sick,/ the elderly and the poor./ We pray to the Lord.

We ask gifts of healing for all who live in active addictions./ For those who need new strength for a struggle./ For those who are overwhelmed with despair/ or who long to feel forgiven./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have died/ to be assisted by the prayers of the Virgin Mary and the saints./ And that we would recognize the help God gives us for our own salvation./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shh! Stop and Consider!

I'm just back from a few days at the Benedictine Monastery of Mount Saviour in Elmira, New York. There are ten hardy monks there, on their feet and hanging on, who still keep the traditional seven times chapel-gathering for prayer, starting at 4:45 in the morning.

The monastery is indeed at the top of the mount. The road heading in is a steep enough climb to require a stop or two to catch your breath. And right at the top, just before the monastic buildings come into view, there is this marvelous tree, now bright orange with yellow-leaved wild grape vines underneath. 

"Stop and consider the wondrous works of God," we read in Job 37:14. God's imagination: trees that change color, to delight us!

And in the monastery there are other wondrous things to observe and consider:

The tables in the refectory (dining room) are U shaped with the prior (head-monk) sitting at the center so to lead the blessings. But splaying out to his left and right are the guests. The monks sit further away along the U, only after the guests are seated and served. Even at Mass, the guests receive Holy Communion first; the monks follow. There are some good Gospel verses about living this way of others first.

And while there is no vow of silence, the monks speak really only about necessities. The guests find it very hard to carry this over to the guest house where there is usually too much talking. The witness of quiet monks is important, maybe especially these days, bombarded as we are with advertising and constant talk shows and "Breaking News." 

Wouldn't it be something if the  Christians were identified more by our quiet interiority than by our outward shows. That we were the ones who didn't get into all the stupid talk. Father John says: "Where there are many words, sin cannot be avoided." 

We might find a bronzy-orange, flame-tree today somewhere, or imagine stopping along the monastery road shown here, and in silence, just consider.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Prayer Before The Queen of Peace

The monks of Mount Saviour end their day of rhythmic work and prayer, in the crypt of their chapel, where the pilgrim discovers this tender statue of the Virgin Mary with her Holy Child. The image was likely created in 13th century France and given to Father Damasus when he founded the monastery in the early 1950's. The monks have titled her: Queen of Peace.

Look! Mary carries Jesus off her left hip, as mothers do. She plays with his foot, while he tugs on her veil with both hands. The statue was originally painted, indeed, bits of color remain on the folds of her mantle, dress and hair. Mother and Child smile at each other. Silly to call those centuries, the Dark Ages. 

Notice the ceiling ribs converging over her head. She is a prayer-locus. Here's my own prayer, but you can zoom in on the photo for a closer look and write your own. Prayer springs from our breathing and from our hearts, the doorway to which is silence.

I arise today ~
Mary's smile
and that of her Child.
In her playful carrying,
and her locked-on gaze.
In her crowned elegance,
and sparked prayer.

I arise today ~
whispered to 
and enfolded in mantle.
Gladdened by wonder
and the Infant's climbing.
Protected and defended,
against the un-doing.

May I live this day ~
Hopeful in darkness,
Still standing in confusion,
Patient with weakness,
Good-hearted with ignorance,
Thawed by the death-news.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Autumn lettuce and a psalm for protection

This wonderful corner of the October garden is filled with Misticanza: Italian salad greens growing nicely. The translation on the back of the seed pack says Misticanza can be grown Quattro Stagioni - in all four seasons. Probably yes, in Italy, but here in Pennsylvania, while seeds can be sown in late summer, by mid October, a freezing night can kill the fragile greens. 

So when the sun goes down in the afternoon, I pull this blanket of garden fabric over the plants, hoping it's enough to ward off the worst of the killing-cold. Come the morning, when the sun breeches the hills and things begin to warm, the blanket is pulled back: danger passed.

Psalm 91 is a perfect end-of-day prayer asking for a blanket of protection. Filled with loads of image-words that we can each name for ourselves and our dangerous world, I expect praying it mindfully for others can be a great kindness.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,
  who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress,
  my God, in whom I trust."
For he will rescue you from the snare of the fowler,
  from the destroying pestilence.
With his pinions he will cover you,
  and under his wings you shall take refuge;
  his faithfulness is a buckler and a shield.
You shall not fear the terror of the night
  nor the arrow that flies by day;
Not the pestilence that roams in darkness
  nor the devastating plague at noon.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
  ten thousand at your right side,
  near you is shall not come.
Rather with your eyes shall you behold
  and see the requital of the wicked,
Because you have the Lord for your refuge;
  you have made the Most High your stronghold.
No evil shall befall you,
  nor shall affliction come near your tent,
For to his angels he has given command about you,
  that they guard you in all your ways.
Upon their hands they shall bear you up,
  lest you dash your foot against a stone.
You shall tread upon the asp and the viper;
  you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.
Because he clings to me, I will deliver him;
  I will set him on high because he acknowledges my name.
He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
  I will be with him in distress;
I will deliver him and glorify him
  with length of days I will gratify him
  and will show him my salvation.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jesus, teach us as you did at Capernaum!

They now left that district and made a journey through Galilee. Jesus wished it to be kept secret; for he was teaching his disciples, and telling them. "The Son of Man is now to be given up into the power of men, and they will kill him and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.
So they came to Capernaum; and when he was indoors, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" They were silent, because on the way they had been discussing who was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all." Then he took a child, set him in front of them, and put his arm around him. 'Whoever receives one of these children in my name", he said "receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me." Mark 9: 30-37

For he was teaching his disciples. Now the teaching is not public, but private. The time is short, and Jesus has much to tell them about the Kingdom of God. Jesus, in the privacy of my heart, teach me what I have yet to learn of God's rule.

But they did not understand. This "not understanding" is a repeated theme in the Gospels. Sometimes we're so very busy in our religious lives and someone might ask legitimately, "What does this have to do with Jesus and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed?" Fair enough. We should care, and take the question to heart, rather than defending ourselves so quickly. 

They were afraid to ask. Why would the disciples be afraid to ask Jesus anything? Maybe because Jesus' answer would require a change of mind. Many people resist (even bitterly) changing their minds. When was the last time you heard someone say, (even yourself), "You know, you're right; I never thought of it that way before," or "Wow, I was really wrong about that!"

They were silent. Jesus has heard the disciples arguing on the road, and he calls them out on it. But they are like children who have been caught in a lie, or something shameful and embarrassing. 

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all. This is a central piece of Jesus' teaching. Think of bad-tempered athletes who let their unhappiness be known because they don't come in first place. Or someone who is all put out because he/she didn't get the desired position. Spoken or unspoken, the cultural thinking is something like this: How can I win? What's in it for me? How can I get out of this? Let me know what's expected before I commit.  Instead of looking to control and dominate, Jesus asks us to put ourselves at the service of others. My goal should be: How useful can I be? 

I know a family who have recently bought a motel. When I asked the mother (who is also the oldest) "And what are you going to do in the new business?" she immediately answered and laughed, "I don't know; clean  toilets?" Jesus would be sooo un-impressed with stardom!

Then he took a child.  In the ancient world, no other philosopher or guru or religious teacher ever featured children so importantly as did Jesus. There's a lot to learn from children spiritually. French author, Arnaud Desjardins, wrote: Mindful and creative, a child who has neither past, nor examples to follow, nor value judgments, simply lives, speaks and plays in freedom.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Intercessions ~ Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

May we always remember/ that while we walk in God's sight/ God is  observing us not in suspicion but in love./ We pray to the Lord.

We make the bold prayer/ that no child in this world would be without a smile./ We pray for families which are stressed or fractured by addictions and violence./ We pray to the Lord.

In the autumn time/ as the trees drops many thousands of leaves,/ we pray to drop hatred and anxiety/ or whatever keeps us from Christ's idea of a truly human heart./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are often treated as an inconvenience:/ the weak,/ the unborn,/ the afflicted,/ the dying and those with disabilities./ We pray to the Lord.

In a difficult election time we pray for our country,/ and for all the nations of the world,/ mindful of those places where there is trouble and sadness./ For the conversion of those who do evil things./ We pray to the Lord.

Grant healing,/ consolation and care to the sick,/ the injured and wounded./ Grant peace to those in every place who are mourning or lonely,/ blessings for those who are companions to sufferers./ We pray to the Lord.

For all who have died,/ those known and unknown to us,/ to encounter Christ in his great mercy./ And grant everything we need for salvation in this life/ and in the life to come./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Book of Nature and the Falling Leaves

Father Alexander Men teaches that God has given us two books: the book of nature and the book of the Bible. That is to say, hidden within nature there is something of God's knowledge, presence, pointing or creative imagination to be discovered.

At least in the northern hemisphere it's the season of autumn. We call it the fall as we watch the leaves, having completed the hard work of providing oxygen. shade and air purification, now drop or fall from the trees. 

So what's the book of nature teaching us now - in October? I might ask of myself or of my family, "What do I need to drop in order to become a healthier or more evolved and whole human person?" "What resistance do we need to drop as a family (or as a couple) so to possess more fully human hearts?"

And it is very wonderful to note that behind every dropped leaf there's next years leaf bud. Very small and brown with a hardened shell to protect from the winter's cold, there it is - a tiny promise of hope, growth,  joy and possibility.

Some leaves hold on tighter than others. The dead leaves of an oak tree hang on even through the winter and won't drop until the spring. So, in my inner life, my emotional or behavioral life, what am I holding on-to so tightly because I don't yet trust there's the little bud of promise behind the letting go - the surrender? 

The folks who try to live by the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous understand this: their meetings often held in church basements. And so it's sometimes said that there's more spirituality going on in the downstairs church than the upstairs church. Downstairs, people are wrestling mightily with these issues of surrender and letting go, so be more human, healed and whole persons, while upstairs, (perhaps), the sermon is half-baked, the one verse of the hymn is sung without luster, the scriptures are read without refection and the prayers recited from monotonous memory. No questions asked.

Maybe we should all find a particularly beautiful fallen leaf this year and take it with us to church - contemplating it before Mass begins: asking ourselves about the letting go and belief in the promise-life-bud right behind.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Rosary Decade in the Light of the Transfiguration

Our Father Who art in Heaven...

O Christ, the light of your Transfiguration shines to the trillion, trillion galaxies - stars beyond which I can see.

Hail Mary...

By your Transfiguration, Oh Jesus, the mountains and hills, the canyons and the desert, even the stones sparkle and glow.

Hail Mary...

In your Transfiguration, Oh Jesus, you illuminate and make bright the plants, the trees, the grass and  flowering things.

Hail Mary...

Jesus, may your Transfiguration-light invade the deepest places of the human mind, where evil plans are made.

Hail Mary...

Transfigured Jesus, radiate light where there is hatred, bigotry, racism and all the crazed fears, we call phobias.

Hail Mary...

Jesus, turn the splendor-ed light of your Transfiguration on us in our ignorance, folly and unknowing. Compassion-ate us.

Hail Mary...

Oh Jesus, by your lustrous face, let us learn well your transfiguring command to love other people well.

Hail Mary...

Oh, that your Transfigured radiance would pour into the hidden places where we are lost in isolation, confusion, depression and addiction. Restore us to a bright joy.

Hail Mary...

I pray to know how deeply I am held in Christ's Transfiguring light, and all the others with whom I share life on this planet.

Hail Mary...

Shine! Shine! O Christ of the Glory-Mountain; save the nation which veers off into shadow.

Hail Mary...

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Intercessions ~ Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This week,/ Pope Francis visited the people of Amatrice, Italy,/ whose town was completely destroyed by an earthquake in August./ We pray for people everywhere who suffer terrible losses in natural disasters and wars./ We pray to the Lord.

As the nation celebrates Columbus Day on Monday,/ we pray in this election time/ for our country to make the fresh discoveries of reciprocal decency,/ genuine courtesy and charity./ We pray to the Lord.

Asking for the forgiveness of our own sins,/ we join the Jewish world in their Wednesday observance of Yom Kippur,/ their day of atonement and purification./ We pray to the Lord. 

Forge a new heart-solidarity in us with those who are little,/ weak and easily forgotten./ Give us new eyes to detect and enjoy God's presence/ each day this week./ We pray to the Lord.

The leper who is healed in the Gospel today/ was considered a heretic by official Judaism./ That we would put away all the negative judgments of other people/ realizing more deeply our own frailty and need before God./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the sick, the wounded and injured/ and for those who receive no medical attention./ We intercede for those whose disease is interior/ afflicted by bigotry,/ hatred or indifference./ We pray to the Lord. 

Praying for those who have died,/ we ask especially for family and friends/ to live happily in the place of God's mercy and light./ And that we would be given all we need for our own salvation./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The earth is the Lord's...

Here is the opening verse of psalm 24 as found in an 18th century Anglican Book of Common Prayer:

The earth is the Lord's and all that therein is;
 the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein.

The compass of the world - the translator is featuring the world's round-ness. And here's this neat NASA picture of our round planet gently and so beautifully rotating morning into night, into morning again. I'm thinking while watching the earth turn: what an invitation to prayer! As they come into view, pray for the places you've perhaps visited or about which you know something. See what thoughts come to mind.

I see Florida and I know the LaLeche shrine is there - where couples pilgrim, asking for the gift of conceiving.

I ask the blessings of conversion over my own country where there is hatred, bigotry and violence. Contention in this political time.

I ask for the gift of rain where I know terribly destructive fires burn in the western states.

I see Mexico, the Guadalupe's home. Giving thanks for my visits to her shrine, I ask blessings for the beautiful Mexican people, and the healing of fears and hatred where I see the border between Mexico and the United States.

I see Central America, aware of its unrest and poverty. A terrible hurricane is sweeping across the Caribbean island-countries.

I see South America and Brazil with its threatened rain forests which give the planet so much of its oxygen. 

I see the great Pacific Ocean and ask for us to be wise in our treatment of the earth's waters and all they contain. That we would be healed of our greed and exploitation.

I see Japan through the clouds and ask that the world would put away all the bombs. No more Hiroshimas. No more Nagasakis.

I see Australia - "down under" and pray that no one would be forgotten because they are out of sight.

I see Africa and remember discovering the wonder and beauty of this continent in 3rd grade when we were introduced to the encyclopedia. The difference between African and Asian elephants! Oh God, keep me in the mind of discovery!

I see Egypt where Coptic Christians suffer, and the Middle East so troubled with violence, and now the twisting-up of Islam in many places. Give us new hearts!

I see Israel of the Holy Land. If you will, Lord, that I would visit Bethlehem some day.

I see Europe and where Medjugorje is and recall my visit there at the end of the terrible and costly war. Heal that land; heal us of our preparations for more war. Forgive and convert those who make huge profits off of war.

I see where Lourdes is on the Pyrenees Mountain line between France and Spain. Prayers for pilgrims everywhere. We're all on a pilgrimage to goodness, conversion of heart, to eternal life.

I see Russia and my 1996 visit to Kizhi Island in the center of Lake Onega. Waking up and putting my head out the portal of the river ship and seeing the cluster of silvery-wooden, medieval churches. My boyhood dream come true.

And knowing that as the globe turns there are children being born and others who wake up to more bombs and hunger, fear and worries. Oh God, that they would all begin the new day in peace and safety, healthy and fed, with parental love in their lives and a happy school to attend. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The little things are really the great things...

This lovely, autumn-time, native aster is blooming now in Pennsylvania. Here it grows happily along the edge of the woods in dappled light. It is called Aster Cordifolius or Blue Wood Aster. The thin stems send up big, long-lasting clouds of delicate, powder blue flowers. Each flower is about the size of a baby aspirin. The clusters sway or shake gently when there's a breeze.

In his essay, Wild Fruits, Henry David Thoreau quotes the nature-philosopher Pliny (though the quote isn't verified anywhere) "In minimus Natura praestat" - Nature excels in the least things. Aster Cordifolius affirms Pliny's claim.

And a Jesuit priest-author writes, "Christians live under the sign of the diminutive." Indeed, all throughout the Gospels, Jesus, referencing the small and least things, teaches us about the divine things that matter most. 

  • the tiny mustard seed that becomes a great bush
  • the bit of yeast that leavens the whole dough
  • the widow's coin of least value worth more than grandiose gifts
  • a few loaves and some dried fish to feed thousands
  • the little pearl bought by selling everything
  • small children gathered by Jesus to teach us how to receive God's mercy
  • the smallest of birds carefully observed by God
  • the tiny child of insignificant Bethlehem, who is God with us.

We might look and listen for small and least today. God is near.
  • In the morning as the leaves still drip with rain from last night's storm.
  • A young mother in the park, feeding her toddler who sits in the stroller.
  • The sales person so genuinely helpful.
  • There are tropical plants and even fish in the islands throughout the mall.
  • A shade of green today that I'd never seen before.
  • The surprise of a polite driver who knew what the YIELD sign means.
  • I heard church bells today...
  • and wispy clouds against a blue, blue sky.
  • A last robin hanging around made me think of spring for a moment.
  • The tender story of an old black and white film.
  • Out of season, the Magnolia has sent out two waxy, deep pink flowers.
  • The radio song that brought back a lovely memory.
  • How delightful - the first apples of autumn.
  • ( Fill in the blanks)