And raise you up.

JMJ

Sitting outside the coffee shop about a week ago, I was approached by a man who asked if he could join me and sit at my table. It’s a small coffee shop: there are three tables and strangers always sit together. I said sure. He sat down and immediately begin to talk. This was annoying, slightly, because I had my computer open and I was in fact working. Actually, as I was only looking for a particular font on graphic design, I wasn’t completely engrossed. Then at one point, he said, “Sorry! Do you have time for a conversation?” I explained that I was only looking for a particular font and if he would give me a moment I would be with him. A few moments later I closed my computer and we begin to chat.

He was working in a substance addiction program. This is work experience that I have as well. He was studying substance addiction at college. This is something I really wish I had done, but his next comment was even more engrossing: what I’m really interested in, he said, is internet addiction. And I acknowledge that I worked for a tech company, but that I also had worked in recovery and was interested in internet addiction. I excused myself and got a refill on my coffee. When I returned to the table the woman next to us joined our conversation, “I too work in recovery.” This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in San Francisco. I love this town!

My conversation partner acknowledged that as it was already nearly noon and that he had just gotten out of the house: he had been up late watching YouTube videos. He’s one of several folks who admitted to me that they stay up at night watching YouTube, clip after clip. I said I once had sort of the same problem, but my internet now turned off at 10 PM. He asked me to walk him through this – first wanting to know how to do it for himself and then wanting to know the thought process that led me to this choice.

Probing, personal conversations with total strangers is also something that happens in SF. At this point, we exchanged (first) names.

My own story does not begin with an addiction to adult content. Immediately after 9/11 I found that I was almost obsessively saving news photos of the tragedy. Photos of people waiting in airports. Photos of people running away from The Towers. Photos of people jumping. I have thousands of images of that day. Why? Was merely hunting and gathering what was this about? It was three years or more before I could bring myself to throw those photos away. I never printed them. I’m not sure that I ever went back and looked at them. But I had them. It was my way of processing grief, I think. When I later begin to collect adult content though, I recognized the same pattern. And I recognize the same pattern in other places around the internet. This didn’t strike me as a healthy process. Even now, late at night I will find myself switching between Facebook Twitter and my email as if something new could have happened. This is why things turn off at 10 pm.

He shared that in his research he had discovered that Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media platforms use the same algorithm as a prominent adult content company. I asked him for more information. He said that this adult content company (aka TornNub) used a certain algorithm to decide when to display content you seen and liked versus content that was only sort of what you liked versus content you wouldn’t like it all. The idea was to get you to click more. It didn’t matter what you clicked on – only that you clicked. So when you find yourself in an endless scroll on Facebook, or Twitter looking for something to like but not really caring about anything you see you’re doing the exact same thing that TornNub gets you to do. Amazon also uses this same stochastic rewards system to get you to keep scrolling through their endless shopping lists. They sell adult content there, too: only you are not on trhe right track to find it. One day I found myself looking wood floor tiling: I have never owned my own living space. Amazon fed me floor tile that is removable, and useful for apartments. I clicked through just as easily Baby Yoda did when his parents left the house.

An old commercial used to say it’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? If they’re on the internet they could be home. But their brains could be anywhere at all including, most likely shut down, zombified as they scroll. He shared that his exploration of the stochastic process had caused him to discover it on Netflix and other content sites as well. Anywhere a service says, you might also like… All of these sites use TornNub’s same process to keep you clicking, to get you addicted to their content.

To struggle with an addiction is often disheartening: knowing that failure only means more struggle, more work. Yet, one can forget that one is sick: morality plays a part in early choices that lead to addiction, but culpability fades as the actual mental illness grows and develops, become stronger. I have been taking my addiction to confession for literally two decades. Sometimes it was worse sometimes it was better but always it was constant. A couple of months ago having heard my confession my spiritual director asked me if I wanted anointing.

When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacramento is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives theHoly Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age. The Holy Spirit renews our faith in God and helps us withstand the temptations of the Evil One to be discouraged and despairing in the face of suffering and death. Also, a sick person’s sins are forgiven if he or she was not able to go to Confession prior to the celebration of the Sacrament of the anointing of the Sick.

Another effect of this Sacrament is union with the Passion of Christ. By uniting ourselves more closely with the sufferings of Our Lord, we receive the grace of sharing in the saving work of Christ. In this way, our suffering, joined to the Cross of Christ, contributes to building up the people of God.

US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catechism for Adults, pg 282

I said yes to his invite and receive the sacrament, for the first time, that day in the office. In the Orthodox church although the sacrament of anointing is offered it really is only offered for the terribly sick. I’d only seen it twice: once for my priest when he had cancer and once for a child who had a tumor. In some places, this sacrament is offered to everyone on the first Wednesday of Lent. In the Catholic church, it’s part of what used to be called the Last Rites. All images of it from history show old, sick people in bed, their priests holding oil while loved ones are around praying and weeping. At st. Dominic’s you can receive the sacrament anytime you wish if you ask for it. And monthly there is a mass of healing where all the sick come forward and are anointed. I have since received this Sacrament at this Mass: once a month going forward with all the sick and the infirm, to receive the holy oil on my hands and my forehead. As a priest said this last weekend, no one will “check your sick card” if you present yourself for this. No one asks why I’m there. And so this Saturday I presented myself for inviting.

The priest lays his hand upon your head and silently, or perhaps verbally, says a prayer for you. Then, signing your forehead and each hand with the holy oil (blessed by the Bishop), the priest says, “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

This is literally Jesus touching you.

It is impossible to describe how the sacrament feels. In fact, it is impossible to describe how any Sacrament feels. St Thomas says the sacraments cause Grace. But at the same time, they are something so deep, so intimate, so dark, so cthonic, and so personal that it is impossible to give them words. A Sacrament is what God whispers to you on Sunday morning in dawn’s light, as you both lie in bed looking deeply into each other’s eyes across the pillow. There are no words for that.

The monthly “booster shot” seems to work where no other action has. A priest in confession once told me that all of our sins can cause deep wounds and in those wounds demons hide in the darkness. This priest gave me a blessing, an exorcism of sorts, to set about cleansing these wounds. We go to confession for the restoration of our relationship with God so that the healing can begin. The Anointing of the Sick is for the healing of these wounds. Healing is what is needed, the next step in the process. The Saints call us not towards a life devoid of health, but to a life filled with the goodness of the Holy Spirit raising us up. This sacrament is that process.

In light of what my new friend shared about the way that internet media draws Us in and keeps us, it seems we may all be suffering from an addiction of sorts. It’s not adult content, but an addiction doesn’t have to be morally objectionable to destroy our freedom and wreck our lives: only addicting.

Liber Al Vel Austin

So this quote came up in a book I’m playing in Google books.

Love & do what you will. If you hold your peace hold your peace out of love. If you cry out cry out in love. If you correct someone correct them out of love. If you spare them spare them out of love. Let the root of love be in you: nothing can spring from it but good.

St Augustine, Sermon on Love

And I was struck instantly by the memory of the parallel with Crowley’s Book of the Law line, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law… Love is the law, love under will.”

Crowley had noted that the Greek letters for love (αγαπη) Agape and will (θελεμα) Thelema each added up to 93. He felt that the pair of 93s meant something. But what? He took a lot of occultists down the mistaken route of assuming that mere wanting to do something meant it was love. In fact that assumption is so common as to be a cardinal virtue of secular culture: do whatever you want. You do you. Follow your bliss. It’s like the credo of abortion, gun violence, racism, sex and every other non-christian moral problem we have. Crowely founded the Abbey of Thelema where his disciples could show up and do whatever they wanted, trying to discover their “True will”. The wiki reports some successes, but it is said that by the middle of the last century there were basically a bunch of pre-hippies left there in various states of dissolution.

Then I heard the line from Augustine and my mind wrapped around Aleister and Augustine (Al’n’Austin) and held them together for a while. Al couldn’t’ve led that many people astray without having at least a tiny kernel of the truth. That line from Augustine must be the key, but how does it connect?

At first, it seemed like it was enough to say “love” (agape) can’t be for anything ungodly, so anything you can love as God loves it is ok. That was wrong because we can will a lot of things that are not godly and we can will them very strongly. So love and will don’t match up. Aquinas (and Pieper) make it clear that the unjust man can do a just action now and then, likewise the righteous can do something unjust. It’s also possible to mistakenly love. All sin rises thus: we love something – the wrong thing – too much. We are mistaken. That mistaken love is not real love… or is it? Because we can only love the Good, the True, the Beautiful. Even disordered love thinks it’s directed thusly. We will to love, but we will to love wrongly.

Yet this line of reasoning seemed to not connect back. We will to love, but we’re fallen. That’s right. Does it follow then that our (disordered) love is not then real love? I wrapped & twisted & chewed. Then there was a light breaking in. Because real love (agape) is God. Not eros, not phila but any real agape – even a disordered agape – is a (very faulty) holy reflection. So even in our failings, if we really agape it’s God trying to get to us. In fact, it is God getting to us.

God is utterly simple. God’s will is love is justice and is entirely one. The same action of God, each and all actions of God, is utterly just, utterly merciful, utterly loving. God’s Agape (αγαπη) love and Thelema (θελεμα) are always the same. 93 right? Remember where this started – Crowley’s 93s. God is simple. These things cannot conflict in God. Yet Crowley (as often is the case with that dude) was both right and way off.

Humans are not God. Our will is the most broken part of us and humans are not utterly simple. Our desire for self-will instead of submission to God’s will results in confused self-love. So our αγαπη agape love and our θελεμα thelema will are not always the same, and we confuse pride with agape. Yet, even as our will is broken it is possible for us to love. This is where Aleister Crowley got it right. Human love and divine will can cooperate, can be the same thing. Not all human will is divine love but sometimes, with humble faith and sacramental grace, human love can participate in the action of divine will in the world. Submission is the key.

It is our continual submission of our will to God that allows our participation in this process. In our fallen state, it is necessary to constantly redo the act of submission. The primary choice in human action is, in every moment, “Let it be unto me according to Thy word.” We do this in love. Love is the law, love under will. Love, and do what you will.

Metanoia & Warfare

JMJ

We are each gifted with a personal identity in the image of God our Father. We are an icon of God.

We are marred by our human tendency to sin, our concupiscence.

We are each born with weaknesses and even as we grow up we may be marked with wounds and scars that further those weaknesses.

At the same time these wounds and scars make us stronger, prepare us for life with others, and help us grow in God’s image. In our weakness God’s grace can supply our needs.

These needs, also determine our susceptibility to temptations, those directions in which we can more easily fall.

All of these are human processes; we are fallen, but nothing prior to this can be called our fault or our choice. This is all the environment, and our pre-mature interactions.

We become what we learn, though.

Those weaknesses become the ways in which we might self-medicate, self-soothe, hide from things we don’t like, and defend ourselves from both abusive interactions and also troublesome but necessary ones.

At this point we start to make choices: do I lash out when I get threatened? Do I retreat into isolation and find ways to imagine revenge? Do I create an interesting cover story to make up for an absence? Do I obscure my intentions for my actions?

At this point, also, temptations begin: yes, you should lash out. Yes, you should break off interactions. Yes, you should tell that lie. Yes, you can do that… it’s easy. These ideas do not come from within you but from outside.

It is here the sword and shield of spiritual warfare must become involved.

The scars and wounds which allow one to be more susceptible to one kind of temptation than another are not our fault. The temptation itself is likewise not our fault. But the choice to act on it at all is a fault.

A demonic voice can only lie, telling you what is a wound is no wound, telling you what is a lie is actually “your truth”. The voice can obscure reality but cannot trigger action: this last step is yours.

We need spiritual warfare at every point here

Some sins lead us only away from God. Some sins draw us deeper into themselves. They become repeating patterns of their own. The demonic no longer needs to trigger these steps for you trigger them yourself. You no longer need to make choices, for the choice was made long ago and you are only continuing to follow it.

The deeper and more and meshed in the lie you become, the more it becomes your reality. You begin to think this is you, this unmade, continually repeating choice. Eventually you invest so much in this artificial reality that your own self gets lost.

You are alone. People no longer relate to you but rather relate to this lie, this artificial reality. You’re not relating to them anymore for they too are covered in artificial realities. The lie has isolated you.

When you come before God, if you do at all, you are convinced that even then you are this lie. Until you are not relating to him he struggles to relate to you. He loves you.

If it were possible you would cease to be you. Your identity as an icon of the Living God would be entirely lost. But that’s not possible. You’re still there. You may be covered by layers of repeated actions. You may be distorted by layers of lacquer and paint. These were not on the original icon and they’re not part of you. Removing them will feel painful.

Yet removing them is exactly what needs to be done. You cannot do this. You must submit to God to have this done. Only the original painter can restore his work.

The voices will tell you this really is you. The idea of pain will run through your head at every moment. Fear will make you stop. You must hear your inner heartbeat. You must see the glow that comes from the original image shining from beneath the lacquer. These things are not you.

You know this. You have always known this. The reality is being yourself is much more work than being this lie. You want to be yourself, but it’s a lot of work. This is where spiritual warfare is necessary.

At every turn cry out to your father. At every turn cry out to the Son and the Holy Spirit. At every turn cry out to our lady and all the Saints. At every turn cry out to Saint Michael the Archangel to defend you in battle. At every turn laugh at Satan. At every turn strive for Holiness. At every turn it is you resting in God never alone, never again.

Think Different

The Readings for the 3rd Sunday, Tempus per Annum (A2)

Paenitentiam agite; appropinquavit enim regnum caelorum.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

JMJ

Repent, says Jesus. Jerome’s Latin renders this poenitentiam agite which means “do penance” but it may be a typo of sorts as “paenitentiam” – with the “o” changed to an “a” – means “repent”. This last is what’s in the Nova Vulgata used in more recent liturgical texts. Jerome may have had an axe to grind, however. The Douay text has Jesus saying “Do penance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That seems oddly wrong. The Greek is μετανοέω metanoeó. Repent! When we hear this word we think of people in sackcloth and ashes. Sometimes we may think of people weeping in the streets. Yet, as I have pointed out many times before the Greek word does not imply any of these things. It means to “think beyond” or to “think different”. Strong’s dictionary says that meta means “changed after being with” and that noeo means “think”, so regardless of “beyond” or “different” it means our thinking is changed. Our thinking now takes on a new pattern after being with… Jesus.

Repent means to let our thinking be changed.

Once, when discussing a new relationship with a group a friend of mine was asked what she loved about her new beau. “I like the way he makes me feel,” she said. The oldest of us in the group laughed. He said, “That’s not love, that’s a peculiar species of narcissism.” It seems that romance always is this peculiar species of narcissism. We have to learn to have our thinking changed in order to experience love. Then suddenly we discovered that love is about sacrifice and about suffering. These are not two things we imagine in our relationships, but we think our relationships are about self-comfort rather than self-sacrifice. We think our relationships are about narcissism rather than about love.

At the Walk For Life in San Francisco on Saturday my friend Kathy spoke movingly of her oldest son. He was conceived in rape. She gave him up for adoption in an open adoption. He is a vibrant part of their family even though he was raised in another part of the country. As she spoke about the sexual assault that brought this new life into her life and about the choices she made to keep the baby, I begin to realize that motherhood means something completely different to Kathy then it had ever meant to me. Brotherhood is not the choice to raise kids it’s the choice to say my kids are more important than I am. Motherhood is not the willingness to give up one’s freedom for children. Motherhood is the reality of giving up everything for one’s children. I began to see why some people might be threatened by this, might want to run away. This was not the first time I had heard Kathy’s story but it was the first time I began to understand it. And it was then but I began to understand her son’s own story of self-sacrifice and success. We learn so much from our parents. When parents think outside of our culture’s boxes their kids do as well.

In how many places of our lives do we think wrongly, need to think differently? What if work is not about making money to pay the bills, but about a struggle to work out our salvation? What if, in fact, all of our lives are about this same struggle?

Jesus says to some fishermen, “Come after me and I will make you Fishers of Men.” If Jesus were with us now would he say to someone fixing a drainpipe, “Come after me and I will make you a plumber of men’s souls.” Does he say to the doctor, “Come after me and I will make you a healer of men’s hearts.” Does grace build on nature, changing what we are into what God needs us to be? When we experience pain, when life gives us something that we didn’t want, when we lose how does God turn this into an act of our salvation? This happens when we begin to think with different minds about our lives. The Daily Grind becomes the daily life lived for God. The same things are experienced but to different ends. Marriage becomes about sacrifice. Sex becomes about self gift. Love becomes about death. Death becomes life.

Does God change our minds, or does he simply open the door and show us that another way of thinking is possible? I think this last is true. God cannot change our minds as that would be contrary to human freedom. God can show us a better way whenever and – with infinite patience and love – wait for us to go into it.

Repent! Think with a new mind. God has always been drawing closer, but now we can see it. When the light dawns on Zebulon and Naphtali it is not a new thing that is happening oh, it is only that we can see it clearly for the first time.

Anagogical Kylie

JMJ

Traditional Catholic teaching says there are four senses of scripture which must all agree. This is a useful meditation tool for the Word of God. The Catechism cites this Latin Couplet to parse it out:

Lettera gesta docet,
quid credas allegoria,
moralis quid agas,
quo tendas anagogia.

The Letter speaks of deeds;
Allegory to faith;
the Moral how to act;
Anagogy our destiny.

We can read all texts, searching for truth, on each of these levels. The reader may be familiar with using this process in literature. Secular texts (even those by Catholic writers) will usually aim at one or other of these levels, but only by God’s grace would anything hit all four. Lewis’ Narnia does deeds, allegory, and morality really well. Tolkien is no fan of allegory, but he does deeds, morality, and anagogy all through Middle Earth. It is fashionable also to do this to movies as well as literature. We can also do this with secular music. Although a pop-song is not scripture and do cannot contain all four levels of meaning certainly some songs might hit some levels.

Love songs (if they are true) must have a deeper meaning. God is love, and so any true love song is a religious song in one sense or another. As love songs grow continually more and more into sex songs this may become less and less true. However, even then – since sex is a gift from God – if they are true songs then God will be in them, to one degree or another. Addressing God in terms of love is often the field of the mystic. True love songs – while devoid of actions we want to replicate as Catholics and often containing only a negative morality – may have allegorical and anagogical meaning.

Kylie Minogue’s All the Lovers seems to me one such song. It is true. Although the official video is filled with things that would make a devout Catholic shudder (if not need to go to confession) the lyrics and the music are not that way at all. Although the song is written for one voice (Kylie, of course) if the song is parsed into dialogue it’s very different. I propose that like the Song of Songs, this text is a dialogue between Jesus and the Soul and it speaks of our ultimate end:

Jesus:
Dance, it’s all I wanna do, so won’t you dance?
I’m standing here with you, why won’t you move?
I’ll get inside your groove ’cause I’m on fire, fire, fire, fire
The Soul:
It hurts when you get too close, but, baby, it hurts
If love is really good, you just want more
Even if it throws you to the fire, fire, fire, fire

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

Jesus:
Feel, can’t you see there’s so much here to feel?
Deep inside in your heart you know I’m real
Can’t you see that this is really higher, higher, higher, higher?
Breathe, I know you find it hard, but, baby, breathe
You’ll be next to me, it’s all you need
And I’ll take you there, I’ll take you higher, higher, higher, higher

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul:
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

Jesus:
Dance, it’s all I wanna do, so won’t you dance?
I’m standing here with you, why won’t you move?
The Soul:
Even if it throws you to the fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, fire

The Soul:
All the lovers that have gone before
They don’t compare
To you
Jesus:
Don’t be frightened
The Soul:
Just give me a little bit more
They don’t compare
All the lovers

You’re doing it wrong

Bl. Stanley Rother saying Mass in a traditional chasuble with a Guatemalan scarf.

The Readings for the 1st Tuesday,
Tempus per Annum (A2)

Factum est autem, cum illa multiplicaret preces coram Domino, ut Heli observaret os ejus. Porro Anna loquebatur in corde suo, tantumque labia illius movebantur, et vox penitus non audiebatur. Aestimavit ergo eam Heli temulentam, dixitque ei : Usquequo ebria eris? digere paulisper vinum, quo mades.
As she remained long at prayer before the LORD, Eli watched her mouth, for Hannah was praying silently; though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli, thinking her drunk, said to her, “How long will you make a drunken show of yourself? Sober up from your wine!”

JMJ

Among the Orthodox, I’m sure it will not surprise you to learn, there are Liturgy Wars. I found this to my great horror after a while in Orthodoxy. There is a phase for converts (it took me about 2 years to outgrow) where “my parish does it right” and everyone certainly does it the same way. My time was compounded by visiting very similar places when I traveled. This led to “My parish is right and anything else is clearly wrong.” But that was followed by about 8 years of “there must be someone who does it right…” because I began to develop a list of things that are clearly wrong: pews, first and foremost. Skipping parts of the liturgy – everyone does this – was increasingly horrifying to me. A part of the morning service of Matins which at my on parish took 15-20 mins to do might take 3-5 mins at some places, or even less! Then I discovered that my own parish skipped a bunch and that part of the service should take about 45 mins on a short day – say a normal Sunday – and maybe 1h15 or even more on a Holy Day! We were all doing it wrong. Listening to us Orthodox criticize each other you might think we were all Eli yelling at Hannah for being drunk.

The third phase of this was the realization that doing what your Bishop told you to do was the right way to do it. Some Bishops allowed more latitude than others, but as long as one was within the limits established by Episcopal oversight, no pun intended, one was ok. Things got hella wonky when I drifted into the Orthodox Western Rite communities where seemingly anything goes and every pastor is his own liturgical Episcopos. The Latin phrase sui generis, meaning “alone of its class” and usually applied to special exceptions to general rules, was invented for the Orthodox Western Rite. No one really does what the Bishops say – although everyone starts with the same collection of books.

All this by way of lead-up to my becoming Catholic. The alleged post-conciliar chaos was one thing that had kept me from becoming Roman Catholic when I fled the Episcopal Church in 2002. But here it was in Orthodoxy too. There are even some Orthodox Churches with altar girls and – roughy speaking – open communion. There are “liturgical archeologists” who make stuff up because “the ancient church” did it. Orthodoxy had all the same mess as the Roman Church, so why fight it? I became Catholic. I also mellowed a lot.

I love a good Latin Mass: I go to one almost every week. I find praying my way through 2 hours of intense liturgy to be quite wonderful. There are those partisans of the Latin Mass who say that the other form of the Mass, the Novus Ordo, is not valid at all. There are even some who say the 1962 Missal is wrong and that we have to go backward in time to the next missal (or the one before that…) Sadly, there are some vice versa feelings too. And there are some in either camp who freak out when they see the Novus Ordo done with elements of traditional liturgy at all. As much as I love the Latin Mass, it’s this last – Novus Ordo with all the trad stops pulled out – that is my favorite. I was Episcopalian for long enough that this most Episcopalian of Catholic liturgies feels like “home” to me.

Go to a Christmastide Mass at St Patricks in SF and see all the blue LED lights and gobs of fake flowers. Try the Chinese New Year Mass with the Dragon. There’s the dancing Gospel at St Paul of the Shipwreck, and the two guitars and a flute at St Dominic’s at 5:30 PM. See the Divine Liturgy in (mostly) Russian style at Our Lady of Fatima and the Latin Mass at Star of the Sea. This is only the beginning: the glory of the Catholic Church. While there are some who would insist that they are right and all the others wrong but each liturgy is filled with Catholic hearts raised heavenward.

Yet we are all Eli convinced the others are Drunk Hannahs who are doing it wrong. The joke was on Eli because it was his own sons who were doing it wrong and it was Hannah’s son who was to replace them. Those in power were about to be thrown down, as is God’s way.

What shall we do with our liturgical diversity as blessed by our bishops?

Give thanks to the Lord our God for it is right and just.

From Before Time

JMJ

When next you approach Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, drawing near to the chalice in faith and love, kneeling at the rail, or coming to the front of line; when you receive from the Priest, Deacon, or Eucharistic Minister the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of the God-Man, Jesus, born of Mary and descended from David by adultery, gentiles, and loss…

The next time you come to receive Holy Communion, remember: He’s been waiting right there for you from all eternity.

For in that morsel of what was bread, now all the eternity, all the infinity, all the glory and immensity, all the love that sustains the universe is present, right there. Any part of infinity is infinity. You are coming to Him, yes. But before you stood up, before you walked forward, before you entered the Church, before you were conceived, before your parents met, before your furthest ancestors rose unthinking from muck to see the sky, he was waiting for you and this moment. This dawn. This taste. This infinity on the tongue.

Before all else that was or ever shall be, this moment was in God’s heart and he loved you. You. YOU.

Think of all the things you fear, all the things that you’ve done. Think of all the things you had to let go of to be here today. Think of all the angry thoughts you had sitting in the pew a few moments ago, think of all the pain you’ve caused (be honest). Think of the things you’ve never told anyone except maybe to say a whisper inside confession or a therapist. All of them. Think of betrayed friends, of lies that let you escape, think of pride that kept you aloof, of love that you didn’t share, think of used people and loved things, think of your idols. Think of it ALL.

He called you here anyway. He loved you before all that – even knowing that you would do all that.

He is standing before you know with arms outstretched in love, and a heart as big as all of heaven lit with the glow of a love that has done nothing since all of eternity except wait for you here.

And it will be bliss and communion if you will but let it be so for he wills it for you. This love is yours if you will but have it.

Have this love.

Be this love.

Be.

Keryg道?

JMJ

You’re still here! Either you want to find a way to embody the Tao, the collected and shared teachings that are the birthright of all humans who claim them, or you’re reading along to see how this trainwreck ends. That’s ok. You’re here and I’m going to keep talking.

The Tao seems attractive: it’s been called all sorts of things by different philosophers and traditions. The Wiki offers, “The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.” And, I’m sure that some readers may have assumed I was going there. I’ve avoided that phrase on purpose.

I prefer the Tao (道) because, as I mentioned, C.S. Lewis uses that term. Of course he is also stealing it from another tradition but, personally, I find Taoism a very attractive way to walk. By coincidence, “Tao” also means “way” so it all fits together somehow. It also avoids all the metaphysical and occult shenanigans of philosophia perennis by already being attached to a specific meaning. If you think I’m offering a form of that, you will assume I mean “the perennial tradition,” alone, is enough. I do not mean that at all.

Perennialism is close… but not close enough. So, to convey the idea of “Perennialism plus the rest of whatever it is” I’m going to stick with Lewis’ Tao.

Robert Heinlein has his characters say in Stranger in a Strange Land, “Humility is endless. I am only an egg.” It is said that that book was written to invent a religion: it succeeded. The  Church of All Worlds is still around. He stopped short, missing the mark by assuming humans would follow literally anyone: including a fictional messiah from Mars. Since his messiah is fictional it’s actually Heinlein. Heinlein grasped Perennialism, but he missed the Tao. He’s right though, as far as he goes: humility is endless. Oddly, he missed the mark exactly here, at humility. If you want to follow the Tao, you have to humble yourself and follow someone else. Why? Because this path has been walked before therefore you will be behind someone. It’s best to be aware of that. There’s no way to lead on this path: you can follow. Following is not a bad thing – and humility is what is needed to learn. We do not have the chance, chronologically, to lead unless you want to assume (as many do) that literally everyone who has come before was wrong. That’s not Tao: that’s chronological arrogance; the assumption that the new, the now, the modern, the current is right because we “know more”. Tao says no to that. It’s the democracy of the past: there are literally millions and millions of folks, living and dead, who disagree with you. That should make you humble, not arrogant.

So who do you follow? Yes, different living and dead folks will have different answers here. Still, Bob Dylan says, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who does the Grail serve? What does that mean to you? I can’t answer this for you and I can’t show you the way beyond this point. All I can do is tell you how I got here.

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, has often appealed to me. Before he wrote one of the foundational texts of Chinese teaching, he was court official. One day he was done. He abandoned court life and fame and was riding off into the wilderness to be alone. A gatekeeper realized the wisdom of this and asked the old man to write down what he had learned. That’s where the Tao te Ching came from. When I got to college and read the book “officially” for a class, the professor rattled off a list of passages that he was sure we had all underlined. Gosh, was I embarrassed because he was right. My “profound sense of wisdom” in these texts was that of any other 19-year-old fanboy. Still, there was something here. I held on to this text until about 5 years ago, really. It sat on a shelf with a lot of texts I considered “scripture”.

The same class also walked us through the basics of Hinduism and Buddhism. I have a profound respect for all three traditions. They are the aboriginal wisdom of half of the humans of the world and long before the West learned that Jupiter, Ammon, and Zeus were all the same (along with Alexander), this unified culture was growing and fecund. Yet I found no appeal in the Buddha and the Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains are all ethic groups long before they are religions (as the West understands things). You cannot convert to Jainism: you have to be born into it. Taoism pulled me along though. The idea that water flows down because of its nature, that it’s intended to do so, and in doing so it destroys rocks and carves canyons: this appealed to me. What’s my nature?

Long before this though, of course, I was raised in a Christian house among other such houses. I heard an evangelist preach hellfire on the radio when I was six and it scared me. Sometime in 1970 I prayed what is called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and “accepted Jesus into my heart”. This was the first of many such events when I was moved by my emotions to do something religious. Thing is, these things never stuck. If you were to check in with me a week, maybe two later – in 197o or 1992 – you’d have found that the emotional event made no change in my life. It felt good, though, to be terribly scared, and then “saved” or to cry brutally over my lost soul. My full-immersion water baptism in the Southern Baptist Church was very moving, very brief, very meaningless. I had to redo it when I became Methodist later because it wasn’t in the name of the Holy Trinity.

And that sentence should clue you into something important: all of this was rootless. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. At 55, I’ve have not yet managed to stay at one mailing address for four successive Christmases. We would move to a new house and the three of us kids would go to the closest church. Whatever church was closest was good enough: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian. I think Mom took us to a Catholic Church once. In the post-council Chaos of 1969/70/71, all I can remember is when I talked to the minister after the children’s service, Mom was horrified that I had done so. I remember being dismissed from the adult service and then there was a room where guitars and people wearing masks sang songs about the Gospel. Anyway… this rootlessness rubbed off on me. It’s dictated my spiritual path.

What religions have I not tried? my friend Steve asked. That list is very short. I’ve walked through several forms of Christianity, looked at Judaism, thought about Sufism, dipped deeply into the New Age, Pagan reconstructionism, Feminist Wicca, ritual magic, Gnosticism, Theosophy, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, it goes on. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or traumatized.

When I discovered sex this story gets interesting for what I experienced as my rootlessness suddenly became a quest for connection and a continual string of emotional events, sexual contacts, that left me unchanged – and yet changed me greatly. The further into this world I went the more selfish I became – mostly, I was convinced, for my own protection. Truth be told, after a while selfish just was fun. Sex is not supposed to be selfish: there’s a whole book on this, but let’s take it as part of the process here. Eventually, I learned that sex that is not about self-gift is not a good thing. The self-gift has to be total, entire, and unreserved. Our bodies are built for this self-sacrifice: even the circuits of our brain are set up to trigger and auto-program from the intense hormonal release.

Our souls and bodies aside though, we are fallen. We need only look around for deep understanding that simply wanting to do something is not a reason for doing it. The newspapers and social mediae are littered with horrifying stories that begin, essentially, with “Because I wanted to do this…” Anyone who has paid attention to the world for the last few centuries (if not millennia) knows that “because I wanted to” is one sure sign that something is wrong.

So although “I wanted to” was driving quite the party in my life, it was not making me happy. I don’t mean I wasn’t having fun: I was. I mean I was not happy. I was not able to wake up every day and say I’m happy being me, I’m honored fully by the choices I’ve made, and I’m going to keep going. Most days I woke up and wondered, “What should I change to get happy?” And I’d make a change: move 3,000 miles, switch lovers or jobs, spend hundreds of dollars on a credit card, try a new religion. Sometimes all at once as moving across the country is very liberating and expensive. I’ve done that 7 times since 1984. Change was not fixing things. And somehow, all the changes still left me with me: like one of those essays about how everyone is “unique” but we’re all the same. Every time I changed, I was just more like me. And being like me was getting to be more and more something I didn’t like.

At the same time this was happening (from 1983-2016) another thing was happening. As my focus was getting more and more narrow, as my selfishness was becoming more of my raison d’etre. The Tao was claiming more and more of my heart. Even though I ran away in 2016 to a monastery I was there for selfish reasons: I was there out of fear and self-preservation.

Coming out of the monastery was the first real crack in my habit. How’s that for a pun? This post has gone on long enough. Next one coming later.

Manifest Destiny

The Readings for the Epiphany (A2)

Gentes esse cohaeredes, et concorporales, et comparticipes promissionis ejus in Christo Jesu per Evangelium
Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

JMJ

Rome knew what it was like to be the Chosen One. They ruled almost the entire world. Sure: they didn’t know about the Americas or even China, but if they had known they would have tried to conquer them as well. Stop being Marxist about your history: every empire has tunnel vision. In their Tunnel, by the grace of Jupiter and the might of Caesar, they ruled the world. God, however, had other plans. They had only cleared the field. They had only laid out the roads, networked the mass transit, taught two common languages to everyone. Rome had done their part. The plan was not about them.

King Herod knew what it was to be the chosen one. He had been chosen King of the Jews by the Senate of Rome. Granted, he had finagled it. But still he was chosen. When the folks back home decided to complain about it he killed them all. Herod was known for killing them all. So when these three wise men showed up and asked for the king of the Jews, yet not Herod, Herod was upset.

King of the ‘oo? No, Majesty: King of the Jews. What? I’M THE KING OF THE JEWS! Caesar said so! A baby? In a Small Town? SAD! I can wipe him out with a drone! He’s the number one enemy in the world!

In the end, as we all know, Herod lost. To a baby. Sad. For Herod. Herod was part of the plan: but the plan was not Herod.

Paul says Israel was chosen, but she misunderstood the why and the mechanics of being that chosen nation: Israel had a place in the plan but Israel’s place was not for Israel’s sake. It was for the sake of the plan. John the Baptist says God could raise up sons of Abraham from the stones if it was needed. Israel is part of the plan: but not the plan itself.

We totally understand why Herod would be so annoyed that three heads of government and three heads of state walked across his boarders and totally ignored him. I’m not comparing Donald Trump to King Herod at all. I mean, you know, the judges… but we – as a people – totally understand why Herod would be annoyed at being ignored. We The People will not be ignored. Even those of us who take a principled stand against various politically objectionable things… we hate it when we’re ignored. I don’t mean we dislike it in the way someone might dislike liver. I mean we dislike being ignored because NO ONE HAS A RIGHT TO IGNORE ME!

America knows what it means to be the Chosen One. We love to play up being God’s chosen, God’s savior who runs to the rescue of the weak and the lost. Is your country being attacked by pirates? We’re on it! Is the island being invaded by communists? We’re on our way! Are the Guerrillas or Juntinistas bothering you? We’ll be right there! We can fix anything: just ask. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask: we have agents, drones, and client countries that can rush in… hold on we can do this covertly if you want. You know, because what would the neighbor say if you needed help from US? Shhhh.

We need to learn that we have a part in the plan, but the plan is not for our sake: rather we are here for the sake of plan.

God’s Epiphany, God’s response to this is a crying baby in a food trough.

Again, this is not something Americans (maybe Westerners in general) like to hear. We’re quite convinced – like Rome – that we’re too big to fail. Culture needs us. Already, the Church in the West is dying and corrupt from our attention to power and, well, the Judges, you know. But the Church in the Global South and other places we like to bomb is growing stronger, more powerful and more evangelical. I am thankful for African Priests who come here to teach us the Gospel!

Each one of us is a part of the plan, but the plan is not about us. As Paul realized talking to the Ephesians, God had just revealed something that wasn’t clear to the ancients. God hadn’t set aside Israel to be set aside, special: rather God wanted to bring everyone up to Israel’s level of relationship with God. What is revealed or manifested here in this baby, this manger is not just a cool thing, but the Manifest Destiny of the entire human race: not just the Israelites, not just Americans, not just Westerners, not just Whites, but rather everyone.

When God was done with Rome, he cast it off like an old overcoat but keeping what is good in the Roman Church. When God is done with America, he will do the same and we need to be ready. When God is done with you, you will be in union with him – like it or not. Liking it will be heaven, not liking it will be hell.

Where will you be? Come kneel at the manger and find out.

There is No Place God-Free

Dore’s Illustration for Dante’s Paradisio

JMJ

Advent means meditation on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell; and the longer I thought about it, I realized that my usual image was too static. The catechism says that it is separation from God (¶1033) but the church also says that God is Omnipresent .

The Psalmist asks,

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy face? If I ascend into heaven, thou art there: if I descend into hell, thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: Even there also shall thy hand lead me: and thy right hand shall hold me.

Quo ibo a spiritu tuo? et quo a facie tua fugiam?
Si ascendero in caelum, tu illic es; si descendero in infernum, ades.
Si sumpsero pennas meas diluculo, et habitavero in extremis maris,
etenim illuc manus tua deducet me, et tenebit me dextera tua.

Ps 138:7-10

Where to go? No where. There is nowhere where God is not.

So how to understand the Catechism saying hell is separation from God? Even on earth, we can’t be separated: we can only ignore.

What I began to imaging was God, the Consuming Fire, as a massive solar wind. When you die, we think of it as “going to a place” but what really happens is that this place is simply stripped away: all the things that we feel block us from God fall away. And there we are: angels, the beloved, demons, God. All revealed as who they are. (CS Lewis gets this in Chapter 31 of The Screwtape Letters, but I think his image is static as well.) What now, oh creature of earth, Son of Adam, Daughter of Eve?

I want to hope, I want to pray that I may hope, when I’m exposed that way that I want to rush forward into the maelstrom of God’s burning, all-consuming Love. I hope, or rather I think I might, one day, be able to intend to hope, that I will drop everything and turn to Him, and let all that is not His burn away: that I will not hold back anything that will, in that hottest of all fires, suddenly begin to burn me as well. Certainly I could turn my back, shield whatever it is from His flame, but then I would discover He is omnipresent, omnidirectional, there is no back.

These flames are not fire as we might understand it, of course. This is Love: pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, omnidirectional, all-consuming, Love. We say we want it: but in the end, do we? We hide ourselves from ourselves. We do not want to acknowledge our darkest secrets even in the silent cloister of the confessional. We dare not admit the things that hide us from God, or the things we want to hide. We say we want love but we are not worthy of it.

Faith here is different from presumption. The latter says, “I’m a mess, but God loves me so I will bring my mess right into Church, right into heaven. I can make my mess a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and God will welcome it. God will bless my mess anyway.” Faith says, “I’m a mess: I will offer my mess in praise and thanksgiving, and God will take it away and transubstantiate it. It will become my salvation because it is no longer mine. I’m not worthy of anything but I will offer it and let God decide in his mercy.”

Presumption will lead to hell. Faith will lead to heaven. And they are both the same, only the direction of motion is different.