Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'

Dusty Springfield, did you guess right?

We are ready to celebrate Advent as a time of anticipation of the blazing fact of the Incarnation of God in real time on real earth. I spent part of today writing many times on Christmas cards "best wishes for" whatever blessings I thought the recipient would need.

However, wishing is an easy step downwards from praying. Wishing, viewed within a life of faith, is kind of suspect. It's asking for something without the requisite acceptance of God's Will for whether we get it or not. Wishing is usually pretty specific and demanding: we wish that we don't get a cold before Saturday, or that the football team wins this Sunday. Of course, we should pray to be open to God's decisions for us instead, since He has a plan for us for good, not evil (cf Jeremiah 29).

It's scary how shockingly evil wishing can become, a silent mental weapon. "I wish that skinny little size 4 would gain thirty pounds and see how she likes it." "I wish that old so-and-so would lose his job he's always bragging about." "I wish that the cops were around that corner and pull over that rude driver." Maybe we know wishing can be a mere incantation, so we can lapse into these awfulnesses....but they do our souls no good.

So I'm working on banishing the phrase "I wish that" from my vocabulary, even at this wishy time of the year. However, I still retain a few wishes that I won't bother God with:

1. I wish there were fewer Brazil nuts in cans of mixed nuts. They take up valuable cashew space and they taste like wax-infused chalk.
2. I wish I liked goat cheese as much as I like Cheez Whiz. It tastes like they leave pieces of actual goat in it, but it's so damn classy.
3. I wish I could find a color of lipstick that doesn't make me feel like I'm walking into a room mouth-first.
4. I wish office Christmas parties were fun.
and finally
5. I wish the leaders of all the world would require, by force of law, that car manufacturers put the gas inlet on the SAME SIDE of every single blessed brand and model.

What do you wish for?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Waiting for it, part II

The bareness . . . has a different bareness than Lent. It's a rich bareness, if you will . . .

That's it exactly, Therese. A rich bareness. Stepping back from complexity into simplicity for a time isn't necessarily self-mortification. It blesses us by amplifying the contrast between the paucity of what comes before and the abundance and glory of what comes next.

Some people I know refer to Christmas as the Feast of the Incarnation. We need to be reminded of its astounding significance. Creation was transformed that day, never to revert. In C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, another world is at stake as Satan tempts its newly created First Couple, who surprisingly resemble earthly humans. The hero, a visitor sent to help them vanquish the tempter, wonders about what appears to be a coincidence; he learns from them, however, that after God was incarnate on earth, there is no other form in which he ever would create beings intended to be in his own image. A corner has been turned. "Can my little world make that big a difference?", the hero wonders. The woman is gently puzzled. "I don't understand. On my world, 'corner' is not the name of a size."

As a devout Reformed friend of mine loves to say, the best words in the Bible are "But God!" There are many times in Scripture when things are bleak and without hope. But then comes the mighty phrase, "But God . . ." followed by the corner to be turned -- what God intends to do. Sometimes I think that the Incarnation must be heaven's biggest joke on hell. Leave glory behind, taking up squalor and pain? "Never!", the devil would say. There's no math in the world in which losing equals gaining, right? But God!

So, we wait. We wait in hope, knowing him in whom our hope is placed. We immerse ourselves in the "before" so we can fully enter into the "after".

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wait for it....

We're coming to the First Sunday of Advent. We begin another penitential season, awaiting with joy a great Mystery, the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, in real time, in a real place.

When I was little, my parents, more from ethnic memory than religious conviction, made our Christmas especially wonderful because when we went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was NOTHING in our house. No tree, no glass Santa heads full of ribbon candy, no red stocking caps covering the spare toilet paper roll on the biffy, no plastic angels and reindeer (we were real style-makers, make no mistake), no Christmas linens, no nothing. With only a small celebration on St. Nicholas Day, finding oranges and chocolate coins in our shoes, we spent the rest of December with an Advent wreath, an Advent calendar, and whatever Christmas decorations we'd made in school. We made cookies, and wrapped presents, and those were put away where we could see them, but Santa brought everything else after we were asleep.

This was especially generous of them because my father, as a police patrolman, was usually working a lousy shift, and still everything was put up and put around and decorated after we went to bed. To keep us from passing out with concern that Santa hadn't been to our house, a specific little elf was placed at the base of our staircase, so we could peek over at 5 am and see it, and know Santa had come, and go back to bed and vibrate until our parents gave the word that we could go downstairs. (I still have the elf, and I still put him near the door.) First, we went to Mass, passing the shut parlor doors (the advantage of a drafty creaky 1895 house is that we HAD a parlor with big sliding oak doors), smelling the tree in there, and then coming home to everything lit up, glowing and beautiful. I give thanks to God for their care and generosity, because the excitement was a great gift to us!

All these years later, I've finally realized the beauty of keeping to this custom. I do put up the outside lights (just as my parents did), because the weather will be getting harsher, but I don't light them. I'll put the tree up the weekend before, because of practicality, but I won't light it, either, until Christmas Eve.

The bareness of the resulting Advent decoration (a wreath of candles on a purple table runner, a Nativity scene without the baby, and a real wreath on the door), has a different bareness than Lent. It's a rich bareness, if you will, with the closet full of presents and the pantry filling with homemade gifts and sweets. Glitter and color and memories are packed away in boxes, but will come forth at the proper time.

If you are planning when to put up the decorations, will you consider waiting a little, as long as possible? It is really necessary to have Christmas decorations up so long that they get dusty? It's exactly analogous to our birthdays; do we put up the "Happy Birthday" garland a month ahead? If we do, we may be saying that our birthday isn't a specific day, an exact event. It is, and so is the Birthday of Jesus. Don't rush it, I beg you, at the risk of insulting your family traditions.

Happy Advent! We are preparing our hearts, lowly mangers that they are, to become the throne of the King!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shopping, chopping and mopping

Everyone's cooking tonight, and cleaning ("Oh, the house always looks like this!"), and dusting off dishes. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Friday, November 18, 2005

What carries you over unbelief?

Is it beauty? Is it truth? Is it the people? The art? The music?

What carries you past the time when you are kneeling in church, and suddenly everything looks futile, worn, a little tacky. "This can't be really TRUE, can it? Is Jesus around now? Can He hear me? Why do people bother? Does it make any difference if I'm here, or if I believe?"

I'm not talking about those little niggles of doubt, when someone in the Church gets a little too far over the line into Mariolatry, or yaws the other way and insists that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is that "Jesus convinced everyone to share their lunches." Those just send a momentary little frisson of discomfort and embarassment up my spine, and are gone, since I have gathered enough information to understand their human error, sympathize and continue with my faith undamaged, if a little amused.

I mean those times when you're praying your heart out. You're listening to the Gospel with every ounce of your attention, and there opens in front of you a future of similar effort and straining, for what?

Last night I went to a special prayer service at my church. It was a first of its kind for us, involving some decoration, music and prayer styles that are new for my parish (it's the first time I've seen hands raised and modest bashful suburban swaying in prayer in the pews in which I spend a lot of time). It was actually quite beautiful, in a homely sort of way. The music had some rough edges, the hems on the draping around the special altar setting were a little unraveled and didn't meet the floor evenly. Somebody in charge believed that if candles are nice, a LOT of candles are even better. The reader went too fast and shrugged her shoulders whenever she lost her place. The congregation didn't quite know what to do when, although all were willing to give it a good honest try.

I kept noticing the deficiencies, not in a critical way, but more in a clinical one. Resolving to keep my mind focused on the worthy reason for the service, I was still overtaken by the human reality of the middle-grade results. Part of my mind got busy solving all the problems, and I had graceful and economical solutions for every one, which didn't help me get un-distracted. Old helpful me....

But, thank the Lord, after the Blessed Sacrament was placed upon the altar, one of the priests began to pray, in spontaneous prayer, not rehearsed, but in his normal conversational cadence. It was heartfelt, aching with emotion, torn with truth. It was love, naked love, for Love. It was how any man would talk to one he greatly and tenderly loved. Oh. Oh.

Lord, thank you for the gift of Your Beauty. I can't stop seeing the rust and dents and dings of the world, (hell, my doors are dinged up pretty good, too), but Your Beauty comes right through them, permeates them, bursts forth from them. When I first slouched back to You, I was carried away and along by the Beauty of the logic of faith, the way everything fits and hangs together. Last night, and at a lot of cold dark morning Masses, it's Your Beauty now that pulls me forward, by the small gold and flame of the altar, the dignity of careful love by the priests, lecters and servers, the quiet of deep emotion and reverence in your people. Nowhere else in the world is that Beauty found, nothing else in the world can contain it.

What carries you guys over when you hit that flat part of faith, that featureless part of the road of worship and belief?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

's up.

I have been busy -- some details to follow -- but I've also been caught in that blogging "do loop" of: "Okay, it's embarrassing that I've been AWOL so long. I've got to start back up with something really worth reading, something with substance. Hmmm. Maybe . . . .? No. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Uh, perhaps tomorrow."

Things are good but delightfully complex. I'm teaching a couple of classes at a local Christian college, I'm doing a little bit of executive coaching and working to develop consulting engagements, but I've also been house hunting and planning a wedding. I'm going to be married next June. As Yoda would say, "Blessed I am."

Of course all the caterers think I'm giving a wedding for a daughter, which always reminds me that this is not the only expensive party I'm likely to throw in the next several years. It's going to be far from high falutin', but as you go on in life, you acquire more friends and more relatives so guest lists swell proportionally. We are paring down to family and immediate friends, but it will by no means be able to be classified as a "small" wedding.

Another effect of going on in life is the gradual acquisition of "stuff", including real estate. I have had my house on the market for a while (initial plans to subsequently purchase a small condominium suitable for a single woman have been thrown out with the trash), and when I do, we'll buy a house appropriate for a couple with several almost-grown children. My intended will move in when we marry after which he will sell his house. Sounds easy, no? Hah.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to being in conversation with you all again. May God be blessing you with abundant grace.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mistaking the Thing Created for the Creator

Friday's first reading at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was from Wisdom 13:

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;

But either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.

Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.

Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.

But yet, for these the blame is less; For they indeed have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him. For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.

But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

I was surprised and delighted to find this reading yesterday in the Mass, because it's my favorite piece of Scripture outside of the Gospels. It changed my life a long time ago. I may have told this story already, but I can't hear if you try to stop me:

Being in undergraduate biology studies, I and my fellow science- and engineering-major friends all took biochemistry, genetics and physics classes together. We spent hours in the cafeteria, smoking and slamming coffee, easily solving all the world's problems, and had excitedly created a view of God that was based on Energy. We decided that since "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed," and the measurement of our aliveness was our metabolism, then the loss of Energy at death must be what people described as the loss of the soul. God must therefore be the name of the Life Force that powered the universe. A million parallels and proofs leaped up. One hilarious one I remember is that we thought this explained why you could get the feeling that someone was looking at you: the thought and look were disturbing the balance of Energy!

We grooved on what we saw as the true meaning of Communion: being fed, being given Energy. Gosh, we couldn't get enough of our own thinking. To our credit, we didn't react against God as a puppet-master, or blame our Christian ancestors as old meanies and prudes. We simply thought that science was our way to connect with God, in a pure, clean, provable way. The God we created didn't know us personally, or care what we did or what we were made for; he was instead a Power beyond our understanding. He certainly seemed big and mysterious enough to be God.

Although I loved the power of my college-aged mind (didn't we all?) I had a little itch in there that this might not be the whole story. My friends and I enjoyed continued filling in the details and proofs of our Energy God, but at home, I started reading Thomas Merton, finding him by picking up a book with an attractive picture of a monk on the cover. Setting aside his curmudgeonly anti-war liberality, which I was a bit too young to understand, I was transfixed by his descriptions of Love beyond understanding, Understanding beyond knowledge, Knowledge beyond words. I read some of his books over and over, especially New Seeds of Contemplation.

Then God guided me to this exact verse. I realized what my friends and I had done; we confused God's Creation with God Himself. The beauty of His Creation is only a mirror of His own Beauty. While I was pondering all of this one day, God showed Himself to my mind and heart and I KNEW...

Any of you who have received the blessing of the sense of God's Presence can finish the story from that point. I'm sorry to say that my continuing conversion was stalled for many years after that, while I was busy sinning.

I'd like to have the opportunity some day to show this verse to some eager acolyte of Science, and leave it to them to think over. I hope if you haven't read the Book of Wisdom, that you spend a little time with it. It's like Proverbs, but with more warmth and less of a "helpful hints" feeling to it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Roz digs toe into rug

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Jesus was not a magician!

Today's Gospel is John 2:13-22, on this feast of the Lateran Basilica, where Jesus goes up to the temple in Jerusalem, and found the money-changers doing business there:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

What I noted is that Jesus made a whip from cords. He didn't put out His Hand and poof! there appeared a whip from nowhere. Elsewhere, He multiplied the loaves and fishes His Apostles found among the crowd. Again, He didn't just wave His Hand and make food appear.

Jesus uses our world to get His message across, to share Himself. The Word is incarnate right down to His tools! How can anyone doubt that the bread and wine, blessed and broken and given by Him, remain ordinary and unchanged?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New job = sore feet

After being out of work for three months, I began a new job yesterday. I'm very happy with the opportunity, the location, the position, even the money. I hope to glorify God in my efforts and interactions there. The time off was great; I had a chance to help family and to relax. Unemployment income kept me laying low and peaceful, I didn't have to think about starting any capital projects.

Today's my second day, and I'm wearing my softest unconstructed shoes that still look like shoes, because in the time I was off, I didn't have "hard shoes" on my feet for more than a couple of hours each week. I rubbed blisters into both my heels, my legs hurt from sitting at a desk all day, my eyeballs were gritty at the end of a long day of contacts (and no naps).

I can't find anything in my briefcase; heck, I can't remember what I kept in it and what's drifted out into regular supply. I stared into the refrigerator this morning, trying to figure out what in there would work as a packed lunch.

In only three months, only 90 days, my body AND mind forgot about work. How it goes, how it feels. I've worked full-time for 20+ years, and I rarely take vacations that last more than a week. I've worn a deep groove on the work treadmill, at least I thought so, until I got off of it for a very brief period.

This is an object lesson for me: I should never assume that I've got my devotional life running just right. Daily Mass? Rosary? Scripture and other spiritual reading? Adoration? Confession? Don't assume they're permanent and unremovable in life, that the change in rhythm would be unendurable, and we would NEVER stop or change.

We're just not that dependable. Only God is dependable.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Another post for luck

I'm still having trouble with blogger, or ATOM feeds, or something. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.....

Ungenerous virgins? Mean old king?

Original post lost....

It was a very nice post about comparing the virgins of today's reading who wouldn't share their oil with the foolish virgins, and the king who threw the guy out from his son's wedding feast, after he was invited in at the last minute, because he didn't have a wedding garment. Readiness is the key; neither the virgins or the wedding guests were expected to bring presents, just themselves, properly armed with lamps, oil, and wedding garments.

I lost the article somewhere in blogger or because of AOL problems. Trust me: it was a nice effort. I won't rewrite it, we'll just move on as soon as we solve our problems....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's like doing math problems for fun

I went to a riverboat casino yesterday. Took Mom; she's an elderly video poker shark, has all the statistics and plays and odds in her head, spends almost nothing, usually comes out ahead. It certainly keeps her mathematically-inclined brain happy, and I'm not worried about any addictions in her case.

In the morning, I did a swift study of the standard rules of Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild, crammed into that 15-Minute Parking Only slot in your brain where you keep the Rules of the Road until you take the test. I spent what I budgeted, and I "got a lot of play" out of the money. Actually, I lost most of my money on goofy clanging blinking slots with cartoon illustrations and Hee Haw story lines.

Where is the fun in this? Betting at games isn't necessarily evil, but it's such a slippery slope not to dip into the wallet for the extra $20 or more, to spend what you shouldn't. I could feel my brain going out of gear, and had to stop myself from putting more money in the machines by going outside for a few minutes.

It's less seamy than the harness track, people aren't so desperate-looking. But too many of those people at the machines weren't smiling. Hell, they weren't even focussing. They could have been fitting cogs together in a factory, for all their faces said. There certainly isn't any of that tuxedoed champagned elegance, standing at the roulette wheel or the craps table, thrilling at the chase, the nerve, the power of money.

It WAS kind of fun to use rules and see if they worked, for awhile. But the proliferation of casinos in the country does not foretell a taste for doing math problems for fun. It's instead a spread of scratching that sinful itch for distraction. I'm probably being high-and-mighty about this, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, as well as a smoky smell in my hair.

If I evince even the slightest discomfort with casino gambling and casino proliferation in the state, and the dependence of the schools on the tax revenue, I get jumped on as an Old Kill-Joy and Crabby Church Lady. Am I alone in this? Should I get a grip, or a clue?

A yes-no proposition

Today's morning readings in Magnificat (not necessarily in the Liturgy of the Hours) are about Yes and No in Christ. 2 Cor 18-20 contains one of those lines of Scripture that make me want to bang my head on the pew: "As God is faithful, our word to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "Yes" and "No," but "Yes" has been in Him."

Huh? "Has been in Him?" Not "has always been in Him" or "is now in Him?" The next lines make a lot more sense, although they don't clear up that first sentence: "For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in Him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through Him to God for glory."

Okay, that I got. The only way to God the Father is through His Son. Our Amen, our Yes, must go through Him to God the Father. And Jesus is certainly God's final Word, His "Yes," to us.

The morning readings also contain Matthew 5:37: "Let your "Yes" mean "Yes" and your "No" mean "No." Anything more is from the evil one."

Got that, too. Truth in our Yes is the same Truth in the Yes that is in God. From God comes Truth; Jesus channels (sorry about that word) God's Truth, and channels our Yes through Himself to the Father, and vice versa. This must also mean that "No," at least in the face of Truth, can only come through Satan for HIS glory.

I like the fact that St. Paul says in 2 Cor that "the Amen from us also goes through [Christ] to God for glory." It bold-faces the fact that "Amen" means "Yes." How many Amens do we say at Mass? There are a few people at weekday Mass who can't resist throwing in a few extras, not in a praise-and-glory way, but because a prayer must seem unfinished to them.

I'd like to work a little harder on putting a lot of "Yes" in my "Amens."


Sample Text

We are grateful ladies with a point of view and a sense of humor. Like-hearted people are welcome. Others, too.

For a glimpse at our lighter side, hop over to In Dwelling.

E-mail us.

Sample text

"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009