Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Face of the Other


"Buber makes the I-Thou encounter the essence of reality, and says ‘all real living is meeting.’ Emmanuel Levinas says that we are not converted by ideas but ‘the face of the other.’

…(e)very time you pray, it’s God in you telling you to pray. You wouldn’t even desire to pray except for God in you…Every time you choose God on some level, God has in the previous nanosecond just chosen you, and you have somehow allowed yourself to be chosen—and responded back! (John 15:16).

We don’t know how to say yes by ourselves. We just ‘second the motion’! …God first says ‘yes’ inside us and we say, ‘Oh yeah,’ thinking it comes from us! In other words, God rewards us for letting God reward us."

-Richard Rohr, Things Hidden

A Relief?


Of course, I have no idea what was going on in Peter's mind during his conversation with Jesus on the shore, but if it had been me (I?) in his place, I might have been incredibly relieved to hear Jesus prophesy a martyr's death for me, otherwise every moment for the rest of my life I'd always be wondering if I was going to deny Him again the next time my life was in danger.

If so, then those were the kindest words Jesus could have spoken!

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" John 21


I Think It's a Sin...


...to say, "You idiot!" to oneself.


Because we don't belong to ourselves, we belong to God.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Am I Suddenly Posting So Much?


...because I have been officially exposed to Swine Flu and am therefore hiding out at home so as to not potentially pass it on, even though I have no symptoms.


Misplacing Facts


Incomplete Knowledge

by Jeffrey Harrison

I am of those whose knowledge will always be
incomplete, who know something about the world
but not a whole lot, who will forever confuse
steeplebush and meadowsweet
but know at least by the shape of the flower
that it is one or the other.

Don’t ask me the difference between
a white pine and a red, or even a Jeffrey,
but I know it’s a pine, not a spruce or tamarack
(a.k.a. hackmatack, but what’s a larch?).
The difference between a sycamore
and a plane tree? It’s beyond me.

I’ve never had a grip on
Japanese painting—the different styles and periods.
I don’t even know that much about Dutch—
Vermeer of course, Rembrandt sure,
but could I distinguish a De Hooch from a Steen?
Do I even know how to pronounce their names?

I know next to nothing about what goes on
under the hood of a car, though I try to hide that fact
in the presence of mechanics. Herakleitus
(am I spelling that right?) said something
about how we hide our ignorance,
but I can’t remember exactly what it was.

Birds, music, fishing, history, it’s appalling
how limited my knowledge is.
I’m not even going to begin to list
all the books I haven’t read.
I’m the antithesis of a Renaissance man,
spread so thin I hardly exist.

I have a friend who knows what seems like
close to everything. Certainly everything in the woods.
He was explaining to me the difference
between steeplebush and meadowsweet
(which I understood at the time but didn’t retain,
as if it were the theory of relativity),

when I looked up and saw a jet whose trail
of fine white cloud kept disappearing, reappearing,
and disappearing again, and I asked why,
and, holding the meadowsweet in one hand
and the steeplebush in the other, he explained it.
And he wasn’t bullshitting, either—he knew.

I’m not sure I even understand what it means
to know that much. Does all that knowledge
add up to some encompassing wisdom,
something beyond the sum of the names
and data, vast and unknowable?
Unknowableat least to me: I will never be like my friend.

I misplace facts as easily as my glasses,
so the world seems blurred for a while—
but then I find them, put them on, and go outside
to greet the ten thousand things (is that a Buddhist
or Taoist expression?), no less amazed
for my not being able to keep them straight.


"I cannot experience myself as truly apart. Between you and me there is no Between."

Nancy Mairs




Speaking of an experience of dread and darkness in his youth, Transtromer wrote:

"Still, it is something I have taken part in. Possibly my most important experience. But it came to an end. I thought it was the Inferno but it was Purgatory."

--Tomas Transtromer, "Exorcism"


Unsolved Love


"There is somewhere in our lives a great unsolved love."

Tomas Transtromer, "Madrigal"


Friday, August 21, 2009



"Overexplanation separates us from astonishment."

Eugene Ionesco


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Things That Glitter But Aren't Gold


For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
See, I have told you beforehand.
Therefore if they say to you, 'Look, He is in the desert!' do not go out; or 'Look, He is in the inner rooms!' do not believe it.
For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

--Matthew 24


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Not That Simple"


"When confession does find a meaningful sacramental expression, the experience of forgiveness can be quite astounding. I have sometimes woken in the night after going to confession, bowled over by the surprise of the forgiveness I did not even know I wanted. When a friend or husband forgives you you feel much better, but when God forgives you and the awareness of it hits you, mediated by one person whose compassion represents that of the whole Church and of God, then you just cannot believe that you have needed it so much. Sin is not that simple, you have thought; contrition is not that simple; reform is not that simple. But when reconciliation comes despite your incapacity to be simple about sin and sorrow, then problems and doubts do not seem that relevant any more. Yesterday they were relevant; they needed a place in the sacrament; they needed to be expressed. But once expressed they do not seem to matter much. All that matters is that God holds you in her loving embrace. First be re-united; then resolve the differences."

--Margaret Hebblethwaite, Motherhood and God


Monday, August 10, 2009

"White Fire Engraved with Black Fire"


“The Torah which the Holy One gave Moses was given to him as white fire engraved with black fire. The Torah is fire, mixed with fire, quarried of fire, and given from fire...” – Jerusalem Talmud

From the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale:

The last portion of the Torah includes one of its more esoteric phrases -"eish da'at, the fiery law." (Deuteronomy 33:2) The Midrash concludes that this phrase is a description of the Torah. In its words: "eish shahor al gabei eish lavan." The Torah is written "black fire on white fire." (Midrash Tanhuma, Genesis 1) What exactly does this mean? On the simplest level, black fire refers to the letters of Torah, the actual words, which are written in the scroll. The white refers to the spaces between the letters. Together the black letters and white spaces between them constitute the "whole" of the Torah. On another level, the black fire represents the p'shat, the literal meaning of the text. The rabbis point to the importance of p'shat when stating "the text cannot be taken out of its literal meaning." The white fire, however, represents ideas that goes beyond the p'shat. It refers to ideas that we bring into the text when we interact with it. This is called d'rash-interpretations, applications, and teachings that flow from the Torah. The d'rash are the messages we read between the lines. On yet another level, the black letters represent thoughts which are intellectual in nature, whether p'shat or d'rash. The white spaces, on the other hand, represent that which goes beyond the world of the intellect. The black letters are limited, limiting and fixed. The white spaces catapult us into the realm of the limitless and the ever-changing, ever-growing. They are the story, the song, the silence. Sometimes I wonder which speaks more powerfully, the black, rationalistic letters or the white, mystical spaces between them. Most of the Torah is made up of prose, the narrative of the text. The large majority of our portion is not prose-it is rather poetry. The rabbis speak of Divine poetry as black letters resting on the frame of the white empty spaces. "Half bricks on whole bricks," the Talmud notes. (Rashi, Megillah 16b. sv. Ieveinah) It's the white fire that gives the black fire its foundation. In fact the spaces in the Torah take up twice the amount of place as the actual letters, perhaps indicating that at times it is of greater importance. Interestingly, water is the first element mentioned in the Torah; (Genesis 1:2) while fire--eish da'at-- is the last. There is a marked difference between them. Of course, Torah is often compared to water, both are crucial to life and have endless depth. Still, water flows toward the lowest level, while fire seeks a higher plateau. It reaches high, higher, and higher still, burning past our eyes and ears into our hearts and souls and memories. It soars heavenward, linking the finite human being with the infinite God. Such is the power of eish da'at-the fiery law-the Torah.

Rabbi Avi Weiss http://www.hir.org/a_weekly_gallery/8.16.02-weekly.html


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Blessing of Fruit

"And only in truly loving his own life, can a person thereby accept the lifeof the world as God's gift. Our fall, our sin, is that we take everything for granted—and therefore everything, including ourselves, becomes routine, depressing, empty.The apple becomes just an apple. Bread is just bread. A human being is just a human being. We know their weight, their appearance, their activities, we know everything about them, but we no longer know them, because we do not see the light that shines through them. The eternal task of faith and of the Church is to overcome this sinful, monotonous habituation; to enable us to see once again what we have forgotten how to see; to feel what we no longer feel; to experience what we are no longer capable of experiencing. Thus, the priest blesses bread and wine, lifting them up to heaven, but faith sees the bread of life, it sees sacrifice and gift, it sees communion with life eternal. So, on Transfiguration we bring to church apples, pears, grapes, vegetables, and suddenly the church itself is transformed anew into that mystical garden, into that blessed paradise where man's life and his encounter with God began. And just as that first man rejoiced and gave thanks to God as he opened his eyes for the first time and saw this world where everything, by God's own word,was 'very good,' so in this rite of blessing we see the world as if for the first time, as the reflection of God's wisdom and love, and we rejoice and give thanks."
"The Blessing of Fruit" byALEXANDER SCHMEMANN

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why Was the Clock Invented?


"...It is worth recalling that the clock was invented not to keep track of our work, but to remind monastic communities to stop work and turn to prayer repeatedly during the day. Rather than marking every moment as an identical and scarce commodity to be sold or invested or else lost, the monastic schedule marks time as the unfolding of God's patience...The tools invented within that life serve not to maximize speed or power, but as aids to worship.

...Time is the medium across which we receive God's gifts, in word and Eucharist, and in which we by grace are able to offer gifts in return: our praise, our love, and, in union with our brother Jesus, our own lives. A sale is about achieving a result, an exchange of goods, and can be done in a hurry, but the giving of gifts, because it is about mutual love, can't be rushed. In worship, as in other gift giving, we have to have time to look in each other's eyes. Worship is testimony that our efficiency, our excellence, and our heroism are superseded by the gracious gift of delighted communal rest in God.

...Coming out of slavery, [the Israelites] were accustomed to fear and scarcity. Learning to live in confident trust took some training, and the story tells us that God put them on a strict trust diet. Manna was given only on six days, and on the seventh the peopel were to rest and eat the extra from the sixth day. God did not teach them to rest after they were secure in their land. Rather, they learned to rest when they were at their most vulnerable...

...the idea that even in postindustrial society people could be self-sufficient is badly mistaken. That thinking depends in the first place on the assumption that childhood, sickness, and old age are times of frustration, of a lack of full humanity, not moments at which we see most clearly who we really are. In those periods when people are dependent on others and when vulnerability is exposed, they and their caretakers may enter more fully into relationships with others and with God."

Kelly Johnson in "God Does Not Hurry" from God Does Not... ed. d. brent laytham
(The boldface isn't in the book)