Crocheted

JMJ

FINALLY CATCHING THE Binge Bug this late in Covidtide. I’ve been Rapidly Consuming the Israeli TV Drama Srugim – סרוגים (the word means knitted or crocheted as a plural adjective) from 2008-2011. If you’ve been watching Shtisel on Netflix, this was Israeli TV’s Shtisel-before-Shtisel. Many of the ways Netflix show is said to break ground were already broken on Srugim. Yes, I realize it’s over ten years old so it’s hardly “binge-worthy” but previously I’d been found binging MASH and Mary Tyler Moore, not to mention the original seasons of Roseanne. Don’t bother me: I’m old.

NEway, Srugim is billed as a drama but it’s somewhere between Friends and 30 Something. I recognize the characters both from my past and from my present: not only did I run with folks like this in the 1980s and 90s, but I know these people intimately now from Church, on the one hand, and from Tech on the other. They all suffer from indecision and a strong fear of missing out. I used to think that was a millennial issue, but it’s an Xer one as well. And I’m only halfway through season two (of three) so my evaluation of the morals that follow may be way off. But so far I’m impressed.

There are five or so main characters in their mid-to-late twenties. They are all single, Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood. I’m not sure if it’s this way now, a decade later, but at the time of the show it had the reputation of being a “Swamp of singles“. In that way, it reminds me of life in Hoboken in the early 90s, Asheville at the turn of the Century, and Buffalo in 2008. And my life in Tech for 25 years where I was nearly always the oldest person around – often old enough to be even the founders’ father. All of the characters in Srugim are looking for love and stressed out: it’s Orthodox practice to be married much younger than nearly thirty. They walk around second-guessing their choices, worried about Mr or Miss right instead of Mr or Miss right in front of me, and wondering if religion was the right thing for them to stick with.

The plot line that’s currently holding my interest is about Roi and Reut. Roi experiences same-sex attraction although he’s never acted on it. Reut wants to date him but Roi is torn between being 100% honest (and scaring her away) or breaking it off entirely. He tries the latter but she pushes through and demands a fully explained reason. After a very rough spot, they agree to try the relationship and work towards marriage.

To me, this is the right way for most folks to deal with SSA. Full stop. Get you a spouse that will support you in your struggle and, being 100% honest with them, keep working out your salvation. That is literally the way most of human culture has dealt with SSA since forever. The full, self-sacrificing love a man offers his wife or a woman her husband is a sign of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a sign of Christ and the Church, of God’s Covenant with Israel, of how humanity and divinity are united in Jesus. It’s a real union of opposites for the purpose of fructification in human lives and in the world. Where we take it, where it takes us is a participation in grace. There is a purpose for love: it heals us. Real love really heals.

In Transformation in Christ we are invited to consider contemplation in one of two forms: I-Thou-Contemplation for relationships and It-Contemplation for things (ie, of Beauty, as in a sunset). The author, Dietrich von Hildebrand, says that I-Thou contemplation involves a reciprocal nature on the human level. When a man and woman love each other in a self-sacrificial way it can be compared to contemplation. Friendship also is a form of contemplation, but disordered disire is not – for it posits misuse and anthropological mistakes. Building on my earlier post on Celibacy, contemplation then opens up the fuller meaning of forgoing the natural good of marriage. We get bored or selfish and these vices disrupt our contemplative action. It-contemplation is one-direction and very stable. But there is no real return.

Contemplation of God, however, combines these two: yes, God is a person who loves us, but he is also infinite being, so far beyond our experience that we cannot at all comprehend him with our minds. When we contemplate God we are engaging in I-Thou and also It-Contemplation. Reciprocity, here, cannot be – but the weakness is on our part. God’s infinity loves each and every human infinitely. We can only ever love in finite terms. Celibacy pulls us away from the natural good of marriage to engage in the supranatural good of Divine Contemplation.

The folks in Srugim spend a good bit of mid-season plot-time asking two questions: Can someone who’s never had gay sex be properly called gay? And can someone be gay and religious? At least as it stands now the answers in the show appear to be No and therefore No. One character in the show even paraphrases a rather famous line from the late Rabbi Moshe Tendler זצ״ל, then Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University. He said (in 1999) that being Gay and Orthodox was like saying, “I’m an Orthodox Rabbi and I eat ham sandwiches on Yom Kippur.” I agree. And if one is not actively engaged in (or promoting) same-sex sexual activity, it seems illogical to lump them into the “gay community”. It is a mistake (if not an outright lie) to label someone by a psychological accident. When we tag an entire person with a misken label we can no longer enter into self-sacrificing love (contemplation) with them. And – with that in mind – while there are many (o)rthodox Christians of various denominations who experience same-sex attraction, there are, properly speaking, no (o)orthodox Christians who can be called gay. I recognize the word “orthodox” is doing a lot of work there, but there are many liberals in many denominations who disagree with me. I think that disagreement makes them liberals rather than orthodox. Using gay as shorthand for everyone who experiences SSA only confuses the issue: it’s blending too much in with the world, I think. It’s making the one broken thing to be the totality of the person – to which the Church expressly says no. Additionally, labeling something as not-broken when it is actually broken only leads to more brokenness.

Whose Wedding?

JMJ

The assignment was a five-minute homily on the stated passage. We began with the exegetical work in an earlier post.

Scripture: John 2:1-11

Today, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, is calling us to our wedding feast.

A CHALLENGE has come to me three times: in two podcasts and a book. The podcasts are Every Knee Shall Bow and The Bible Project; the book has the very dry title, Elements of Homiletic. The challenge is to read each story or passage in the Bible in such a way as to see the whole Gospel message. Keeping that in mind let’s look again at this wedding story.

Mary is at a wedding to which Jesus and his disciples are called. The bridal families are out of wine and Jesus asks the servants to fill up some jars with water. Jesus changes water into wine. 

Problem solved: Everyone’s happy. 

St John the Evangelist has left some strategically ambiguous openings which allow us to read this wedding as a meditation on our life in Christ.

Notice, first, that Jesus and the disciples are “invited to the wedding”. That’s us – we’re all invited. “Disciple” means “Student”, beginners or advanced, we are all disciples together. If you are here today – even if you’re not yet Catholic – you’re a disciple.

There is another symbol for us: the jars standing empty. We’re called to this feast and we come – beginner or advanced – because recognize that we are empty. There is a God-shaped hole in us craving to be filled.

Any disciple’s first step is turning to God. It’s a step we must take every day as we are all weak. To turn to God is to repent.  The scriptures and Church Fathers call us to weep tears of repentance. We can imagine these tears poured out as the water poured into the jars. 

John says those jars are for “ceremonial washing”. We can think, also, of Baptism when the Church responds to our repentance with the living water of Baptism. 

This is also true each time we are reminded of our Baptism in the confessional. The Byzantine rite refers to confession as the “grace of a second baptism”. Combined with these living waters, our tears become joy.

Did you ever notice that the bridal couple stays off-screen? We never meet them. No name is mentioned and they have no words to say. 

Who does St John want us to imagine is getting married here? 

Mary says, “They are out of wine”.

Jesus asks, “What has that to do with me?”

Mary commands, Do whatever he tells you…

Two wedding guests seem to act as if they are the family at the wedding: as if Jesus is the groom and somehow responsible for the wedding. If Jesus is getting married, then, who is the bride? 

One more thing to notice: the Bible is full of wedding imagery! The Church follows the tradition begun in Ancient Israel (carried in St Paul and the book of Revelation): the intimacy of Matrimony is a sign of how God relates to his people. John, as a storyteller, allows us to see Jesus fulfilling those images. 

Look at the reading again and see: 

Jesus is God coming to his wedding with his people. We are the disciples called to the feast, no longer as students or penitents but as the bride.

The steward says to the groom, “We’ve had good wine already, but you have saved the best wine for last”. 

It is as if the Steward – and through him, the Guests, all of God’s people – are saying that the covenant of the Torah, the first wine, was amazing, and yet suddenly we’ve been given more than we ever dreamed to ask for.

Jesus and his disciples are called to the wedding feast here in this text and, in a few minutes, He will call us to a deeper union with him here at this altar.

This is no mere reception hall – not a feast with Jesus – but a chance to enter into communion with him so deep that we can only compare it to the mystery of marriage. 

Our Savior draws us here into the deepest intimacy of the Holy Trinity. 

Jesus here gives himself like a groom to his bride in fulfillment of the Covenant. 

Hearing this call, this is why we’ve come. If you’re not Catholic yet, you’ve heard it too. Come, see me after Mass! 

All is prepared. Come to the wedding feast and change your life into wine.

Word count: 713

What is a Week End?

JMJ

THE DOWAGER COUNTESS of Downton Abbey rather famously asked, “What is a Week End?” Ascending high enough up the ladder of nobility, at a certain point the difference between work and life no longer matters: one is always The Dowager Countess of Downton even when other folks have “down time”. Vocation is like that: one is always the (fill in the blank) of the Parish Name even on (especially on) the Weekend. This comes to me now: the boundary between work and life are blurred, but in an entirely healthy way. I nearly never stop praying about work or worrying about guests, wondering if I should change something or thinking about the situation in the parish. This is not to say I should be on call 24 Hours (or that any parish appointee/employee should be) but if it’s a vocation rather than a job, then there is no time when one is not one’s job.

Boundaries are always something that has been important to me: I need to see where work quits and where life begins. But in the case of vocation that’s not the question. One is always whatever one’s vocation is: even when one is at work, one is at play, one is still whoever one is in God’s eyes at all time. It’s like marriage in that sense: there’s no moment when one is not married to your spouse. To wake up and pretend otherwise (even for a few moments) is literally preparing for sin.

Speaking of sin, the question of celibacy has been weighing on me. To be ordained as a deacon, I have to take a vow of celibacy. This means forswearing the good of Marriage. That said, I’m surprised at the number of folks who say I can’t get married nor can I forswear Marriage because of same-sex attraction, as if experiencing a certain temptation means one cannot participate in the Mystery of Matrimony. I’m surprised at how widespread that idea is: as if I’m ontologically unable to make vows. For millennia men and women who experience SSA went out and got married. They also had children. These men and women are no different from the men and women who do not experience this temptation. They are the same human persons. Marriage is as much a salve for their souls as it is for anyone else. In fact, it may literally be the answer for most Catholics with SSA. God gave us all of the sacraments, all of the Holy Mysteries, to bring us to him, to make us like him.

The Sacrament of Matrimony is not a permission to have (or a blessing on) sexual activity, but rather an action of salvation in the world. We misuse some of God’s gifts outside of Matrimony, yes, but the end and purpose of Matrimony is not to sacramentalize those gifts. Rather those gifts feed into Matrimony to make it a mystery that speaks of Christ and the Church. Matrimony is a sign, a sacrament. It is the Ordinary form: a sign of Christ and the Church. But not all are called to it: there is an extraordinary form, also a sign of Christ and the Church, and it is a vow of celibacy. This last is an eschatological sign, a sign of the Church in heaven and eternity. It can be lived here and now by God’s grace. One forgoes the ordinary form of the sign to participate in the extraordinary form. One freely gives up the channel of grace provided to every man and woman – monogamous heterogamy – to engage in a vowed state of aloneness, what is called in Greek, μονᾰχός monakhos, which has come to mean “monasticism” but originally meant “singleness” or “aloneness”. St Ephrem the Syrian is one of the first “monakhos”, but he was not a vowed monastic as we understand that term. He simply wished to forgo the goods of marriage an explorer a closer relationship with God. It is (as it was) a mystical state of a man or woman living in the world alone with no one else except God. And therefore, available to share God’s love with everyone.

He was also a deacon.

But if one imagines one’s identity to be beyond the pale of marriage, then one cannot make a vow of celibacy. Since all humans are called (in nature) to Marriage, to place oneself beyond marriage is to make oneself unnatural or contra naturam (Latin.) or παρα φυσιν para physin (Greek) as St Paul says. One has crossed the boundary into something else. (Please note that the naturam or φυσιν here does not imply “things that happen in nature”. Literally anything that happens happens in nature. Rather what is implied is within the natural law: the use of things as intended by God and evidenced in nature. Fallen nature does a lot of things not intended by God.

Within nature, one can engage in one’s fallen nature, making up new identities and whatnot. Or one can seek to elevate nature beyond what is now normal, and even beyond what is now the intended (but generally rejected) divine order of things. One can seek to elevate oneself to a higher order: that of the eschaton even in this world.

That’s celibacy.

I got a couple of cool things: this translation of The Imitation of Christ from the 1930s (reprinted in the early 1960s). It has a thematic plan to read the whole thing in a year.

Also, I got this rather wonderful Cross from a Deacon friend:

I think it’s carved, but I guess it could be formed or sculpted of some kind of material. It’s a lovely representation of the Holy Face on the Cross. It’s now in my icon corner.

It’s still hard to be the one in charge. Today was no exception. Tomorrow I have a homily to present and a BBQ to attend. It’s the weekend. after all.

I’ve been watching an Israel Comic and trying to read/listen along. I hear some words – but I don’t get any jokes yet. I like when he does his mother’s voice, though.

Update OK… I totally get the part about the kholodetz.

Orange Class Playlist

JMJ

OUR HEBREW CLASS at Citizen Cafe uses a LOT of music. I’m sure this playlist will grow (we’re only halfway through the term) but it’s fun learning a language with Pop Music. These are not religious songs at all, but each is sung in the modern form of the language of the Prophets, Lashon Hakodesh לָשׁוֹן הַקֹּדֶשׁ as it’s called: “The Holy Tongue“. It’s impossible – even in the snarkiest breakup songs – not to hear something of the Bible. I’m certain 100% that the artists do not share this feeling. It’s their daily chatter from each “boker” (mornin’ just like in English before coffee) to each “yalla BYEEEE!” (Arabic+English=Hebrew slang). It’s ok. But literally, everything in Hebrew has a Biblical echo. (Did Aramaic serve as the “yiddish” of Jesus’ time, or was that Koine? I suspect the Lord’s Prayer was first given in Hebrew, since it was in response to students asking their teacher how to pray.)

1: Hadag Nahash – Lo Maspik (not enough)
– הדג נחש – לא מספיק

2: Anna Zak – Lakh Lishon (Go to sleep)
– אנה זק – לך לישון

3: Shlomo Artzi – Shaalti Mah Kara (I asked what happened)
שלמה ארצי – שאלתי מה קרה

4: Nomke – Kama Paamim (How many times)
– נומקה – כמה פעמים

5: Etti Ankri – Lecha Tetargel Itah (go get used to it)
– אתי אנקרי – לך תתרגל איתה

6: Hakeves Hashisha Asar Cast Gan Segur (Closed Garden)
– משתתפי הכבש השישה עשר – גן סגור

7: Hanan Ben Ari – HaChaim Shelanu Tutim (Our Lives are Strawberries)
– חנן בן ארי – החיים שלנו תותים

8: Ehud Benai – Al Tifkhad (Don’t be Afraid) – אהוד בנאי – אל תפחד

10: Alma Zohar -Uchal Lehamshich Lishon
– עלמה זהר – א​י​ך א​ו​כ​ל ל​ה​מ​ש​י​ך ל​י​ש​ו​ן

UPDATED WITH NEW SONGS AS THEY ARE ADDED

11:Ran Danker – HaSimlah HaKhadash Sheli (My New Dress)
– רן דנקר – השמלה החדשה שלי

A Child’s Autumn in Wurtsboro

JMJ

Two essays from September of 2000. They are nearly as old now as I was removed from my childhood when I wrote them. The “45” in the first graph has been changed to reflect today rather than the original Y2K date. I was already living in SF at that time, before 9/11 changed the world. I was not yet in school at CIIS, though, nor Orthodox. Nostalgia can be so old that it has neither referent nor referent-er.

AUTUMN HAS COME – not in a weather way, but in a calendar way. It always makes me rather maudlin about a place that no longer exists: Wurtsboro, NY, the town in the Catskills where I did some of my growing up (the rest was in the red clay of Georgia). Don’t get me wrong, the town is there, but not the same.

In Autumn, right about now (45) years ago, the leaves would start to change. My Great Grandma Kate would go out to the row of maple trees that lined her block and tap them, hanging little buckets off the sides of the trees to catch the sap as it dripped slowly down. Later, slow-boiling the sap in a huge pot on her stove she would make the most amazing syrup ever. As the trees changed, the stream that ran through town, called The Brook, would become visible again, along the road up the mountainside. From my school bus, every morning and evening, I could see the Brook in its bed, now carrying brown, red, and yellow leaves along its way.

The schools would open. And I’d get to see friends again who had been absent from my life all summer – perhaps only running in to them in the Mall or at some social event – like the Penny Socials which we had all summer long at the Fire House, or the Ambulance Squad House.

Autumn meant that it would get colder again, and dark. I would wake in the morning at 6 – as I have most of my life – fixing breakfast as I stumbled through the morning routine, listening to Dr. Robert A. Cooke, President of the Kings College, doing his morning radio show on WFME, the local Christian Station. He began each broadcast asking, “How in the World Are you?” And he would laugh in a deep, throaty way. He would finish each show with, “Walk with the King today, and be a blessing.”

On the weekends, now that Labor Day has come and gone, the flood of tourists and weekend campers that had filled our town all summer would dwindle to nil. Eventually,all the festal realities would stop, in preparation for Winter in the Catskills. The Ice Cream stand would close, but the pumpkin farm would open. The Canal Towne Emporium would start to put out seasonal stuff.

My Grandmother (Grandma Kate’s daughter) would soon be preparing buckwheat batter. You sit the batter in a big crock in the cold on the back porch. In the morning, to make pancakes, you take what you need, and replace it with the same amount of water and stone-ground buckwheat, stirred in. Eventually it all becomes a sourdough. It goes rather well with Grandma Kate’s syrup.

I’m being maudlin because this is not only gone from my life: it’s gone. There is no small town there any more. There are hundreds (literally) of new people. My town even hosts a tattoo parlor.

I was born in Georgia. When I try to think of my first house – not with my maternal Grandparents – I’m left thinking of a house out in the middle of nowhere, with cows on one side and cotton on another, reached by a dirt road cut in Georgia clay. They have paved the dirt road, and built 20 more houses along the way to the home my Mother’s family of four shared with another family of five. The house is also gone, torn down to make room for more modern buildings with indoor water.

My hometown is rather another matter: It is Wurtsboro, NY. I walked to the elementary school there in 1975. I watched MASH, mourned my brother, and passed my childhood there. But my home town, too, is gone; torn down for modernity.

The post above was followed by a reverie on Autumn in New York

Autumn in NYC was always the beginning of the school year: I moved to NYC to go to NYU and so, even after my school years ended, September always implied “time to buy notebooks” for me. There is an odd smell that develops in Washington Square Park (or used to, as Herr Guilliani may have made it illegal). It took me nearly three years to figure out what the smell was: decaying leaves on the sidewalk mixed with pet leavings from the dog walkers plus additional fertilizer deposited by drunk students (including my own fraternity brothers) and various Personae Vagrantes. The smell was strongest at the two southern corners of the park.

Autumn also meant that the smells from the food carts on the street no longer seemed a threat. In the heat of too many NYC Summers I developed a distinct fear of the clouds of grill smoke that might waft from the Mystery Meat Carts. But in the Chill of October or November, there is something wonderfully homey about roasting chestnuts or pretzels.

The winds in the Village, at the corners of Broadway and 8th Street, 7th Ave and Christopher, or Christopher and Hudson Streets began to develop a chill that would not go away, and slowly, more layers are brought out of the closet and applied. My last winter there, after the slow build-up through Autumn, I was wearing t-shirt, flannel shirt, hooded sweatshirt, gloves, scarf, knit cap and insulated denim vest as my daily “regular” wear to keep out the cold. In the fall, all one needed was flannel and a coat – this is normal daily, nearly year-round wear in SF.

Autumn means that the bars and eateries of NYC will suffer from two things; increased crowding as people won’t hang out outdoors anymore so in they come (with their coats) and the heat. In NYC, the heat will turn on in about 5 days. Landlords are required to turn on the heat – and so they do. Autumn in NYC means that the radiators clang to life, but since it is still a little too warm, the windows are opened up. The chill does keep down the mosquitos (invading from the swamps in NJ). So while Autumn is ok for this automated heating, once winter sets in, everyone catches pneumonia because of jumping in and out of heated buildings all day.

As a Smoker (now an Ex Smoker), I used to like Autumn a lot because I could hang out outside without sweating. In the middle of the day, I could also still manage to leave my desk without wearing a jacket, without folks knowing I was leaving the building.

The leaves changing in NYC was not an issue: they would blow off the trees almost as soon as they had faded from green. There were no wood fires (or precious few) to scent the air, and there was no one tapping trees in order to make syrup. But once Autumn set in, soon that parade would be going past Macy’s, and soon enough there would be snow. In my memories, NYC suffers through oppressive heat and humidity in the summer, not really getting much done, nor looking for much to do, for that matter. But about now, from October or so, until May, NYC lives – this is the NYC that I miss.

Tonight’s Playlist

JMJ

#mood

There was this song I remember singing as a child (maybe 3 or 4). It’s still 100% true. Even when I forget.

Jesus loves you too.

What we all need…

Ending where our brother Aaron began above.

Po-Mo Exegesis

JMJ

This post is from 17 Sep 2002. Still relevant, it seems. I’d been Orthodox for maybe 4 months by that time – and still struggle with some of the things referenced here.

THERE’S A SONG BY THE EAGLES that I heard on the radio today that put a lot in perspective for me. The thing is, I’ve heard Desperado so very many times and never noted the Orthodoxy in it.

Desperado, oh, you ain’t gettin’ no younger
Your pain and your hunger, they’re drivin’ you home
And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin’
Your prison is walking through this world all alone

We all seem to get hung up on “Freedom”. And we define that in our cultures by various means. We decide that Christians in Arab Countries and in Israel are not as “Free” as Christians in the US. But look at what that “freedom” gets us here: a confusion of our faith with mass-market paperbacks – the Left Behind series – and televangelism and “Contemporary worship” that deals in a McCrist. If such market-based terrorism is freedom, give me open persecution any day.

These things that are pleasin’ you
Can hurt you somehow

The freedom to be exactly what I want when I want if I can afford it isn’t really freedom: it’s concession. Indeed, the desire to “be my own man” to “be me” to do things “my way” is the truth in the statement Your prison is walking through this world all alone. But that’s what we define as freedom here, in this culture. It’s a willingness to suddenly want and then need the next greatest thing – which last week didn’t even exist – and to have the freedom to buy that thing that I’ve suddenly decided I suddenly need. And it’s the freedom to throw it out next week. It’s the freedom to be defined by commercials and marketing. I’m free to shop where ever I wish: but I’m still going to buy mostly what’s on sale, because that’s what I can afford.

Our ideas of free speech or even free religion are just as market based as our ideas of shopping and need. what we define as “Freedom of speech” today wouldn’t even have been thought of as acceptable public discourse 50 years ago. Our Freedom of Speech is defined as “saying what I want” when in fact, I didn’t even know I might want to say it last week. Our forms of “spirituality” are driven by the coolest, latest book from Harper-Collins or Llewellyn, and our Civic “Religion” is just exactly what the government needs just now, no more nor any less. TV will show exactly what the market will carry in Televangelism – anything else is resigned to a non-TV Land dominated in American Sports by soccer. No one even dreamed of saying the F word in public until we let the other six on to TV as well. Now it is freedom of speech to say it. Marketers tell us to let pop music into religion because otherwise we won’t be able to sell it – that’s freedom of religion. Anything esle is unimportant “ancient trivia.”

We like to think of all of this as “Advancement” and therefore as “improvement”. But it’s just a changed focus – neither up nor down. The fifties came back (and then the 60s and the 70s and the 80s all over again) because they were market-driven to do so. Anyone who lives in a “niche market” can be driven out and plunged into mainstream. (Have you not seen a Lord of the Rings movie/commercial/product tie-in yet?) To consider this as advancement is really only Chronological Arrogance: this is newer, it must therefore be better than what is older; modern ideas are better than older ones.

Our pain and our hunger are real – they are not market-inspired. The needs we feel, the pain we have are real, and we only take them to the market place because we don’t know what else to do with ’em. There we imagine they get converted to something more manageable. “Retail Therapy”, “Shopychology” “Purchiatry”. We all know why we do this – we’re all aware that we do this. I’ve had a bad day, but I bought a new CD or a new book or a new dress or a prostitute. The market only attempts to feed me – it fails. But I decide it wasn’t the market that failed, just my purchases. I need to go back. I need just a little bit more money, just enough to buy just one more thing… Target is just another word for a sanitarium.

Don’ you draw the queen of diamonds, boy
She’ll beat you if she’s able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can’t get

We know that it is love we want, but diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late

I’ve always heard that as a plea from the singer of the song to his or her intended. Indeed, I’ve sung this song that way at the Duplex in NYC and on my guitar, sitting around a campfire with the Episcopal Youth Conference. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

You know… until I heard the Church Fathers talk about Hell, that’s what I thought this was about – but then I saw a different point.

The Church offer us a picture of Hell that isn’t that “Lake of Fire” that our Fundamentalist friends want us to think about. The Church says God is love… and no one can escape from that God. Hell, however….

The Church says that when confronted with this God of love… some of us will want to run screaming in the other direction: to suddenly stand before Someone who knows everything and still loves you. Who sees the dark places I hide, who knows the number of times I did that – yes, that – and fantasized about doing that too – yes, that – who knows that I lied, cheated, stole, hated, oppressed, abused, gossiped, gluttoned, slutted, apostatized, heresied, bamboozled, flimflammed and whored my way through most of my life – Someone who even cares that I did all that, wishes that I wouldn’t, asks that I don’t, is offended that I did – and still, loves me. That terrifying vision is hell for someone who doesn’t want to be there. And scripture says God is a Consuming Fire – and to someone who doesn’t want to be there, those flames will burn.

But those flames are rather the fires of Love, burning eternally, and we can join with those flames… I can become them, lighting the lives of those around me, being one with the eternal fire, a “servant of the secret flame” as Gandalf says… Or I can try to light my own little flame in the corner, and burn out.

“Let Somebody love you…”

Who already does, Who always has, and Who always will – want it or not. There is freedom there that can not be bought or sold. And it is a painful freedom – for it isn’t the freedom to be “what I want” but rather the freedom to be what I was created to be, what I was born to be, what I am when I am most myself – in full communion with the Creator.

By Way of Update

JMJ

LAST WEEK WAS filled with what could be called “emotional labor”. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and my pastor has called out “maintaining particular relationships” as a hallmark. On top of that, my own devotional life is swirling around seeing Christ in each and every person. Pope St John Paul II wrote, “Jesus Christ is the chief way for the Church. He himself is our way ‘to the Father’s house’ and is the way to each man.” (Redemptor Hominis, 4 March 1979.) As the “the way to each man” it is seeing Jesus in the Other, that lets me relate to them and, even so, to begin Evangelism. The real relationship between human persons must begin in the Divine Person, even those who are not yet baptized are Persons precisely because of their real (if hidden) living relationship to the very ground of their being. That man there, that woman is Jesus. It’s worth the emotional labor. It’s worth the love.

Things that came home to me last week: it’s hard to be the one who is responsible. Also, it’s unusual when your body does something it’s never done before. Reconnecting is hard.

I’m doing a lot of work at the Byzantine Catholic Parish. As part of the Diaconate, I’m expected to do about 10 hours a month, but OLF is getting about that much a week from me! It’s ok: I love the community and the work. However, there is a double irony: one reason I moved away from Orthodoxy was that it is (in America) a very boutique religion. In Russia or Greece, the situation would be reversed: Latin Catholicism would be the boutique. However, because of my faith journey, I’m pretty much perfectly suited to volunteer at a place that is so very boutique-y that there are only 12 parishes like it in the world. Another thing that’s pretty wonderful is they also have a (ByzCath) seminarian there: he’s able to help me keep my feet firmly planted.

My own seminary work seems to be going ok. It’s good to be back in class and to see my brother students face to face. We’re currently being taught homiletics by a Friar Preacher, Fr Bart. He is very funny, but also very dead-on serious about preaching: it’s their charism, yo? That said, for this class (we also have a Homiletics 2 later) we only get three homilies.

Hebrew class is going well, and I’ve been approved to move on to the next level. However, I don’t think I can afford it. I may need to wait until there’s an opening for online classes at the SF JCC.

Finally, it is embarrassing how many times a day I try to open FB, even though I’ve deactivated my account.

Currently reading:

(There seems to be a pattern forming. Real Relationship.)

Recently finished:

Showing your work

JMJ

For the first assignment in homiletics we were to read the book Elements of Homiletic: A Method for Preparing to Preach by Otis C. Edwards. Then we were to put the method in play using a randomly assigned Gospel pericope. My passage was the Wedding At Cana, St John 2:1-11. The method, by the way, is quite easy to walk through. It sets one up quite well for writing a homily.


THE ASSIGNED TEXT is the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). It follows after the Sunday commemorating the Baptism of Christ although that story is abbreviated in Year C, combining a reference to Jesus’ action with the people’s Baptism.  “After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized…” (Luke 6:21). This makes a usable link between these two Sundays because of baptism references in the Cana story.

The first reading for this Sunday is Isaiah 62:1-5 As a young man marries a virgin,  your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you. This connects with the marriage reference in the Gospel and refocuses the imagery around being the People of God rather than a specific wedding.

The second reading is I Corinthians 12:4-11 on the different gifts of the Spirit. There might be a connection to follow from Living Water rising up in us to the New and Better Wine, though Pentecost (are these men drunk?) to the Church. 

This story does not appear in other Gospels.

Three things in this story opened up for me: the bride and the groom never appear as actors in the story. The groom is spoken to in verse 10, but never gets any action or words of his own. The bride does not appear at all. (Interesting to note since this is an option at weddings.) Jesus, however, is spoken to as if he were the groom and Mary the mother of the Groom. “There’s not enough wine,” said the Mother to the Groom. “Fix it.” Are we (the readers/hearers) the bride? 

Second, the opening words, on the third day. The Greek can be read as a direct translation of the Hebrew for Tuesday (Yom Shlishi), which reading I rather like. The Complete Jewish Bible actually says, “On Tuesday” here. That said, “Some random Tuesday before Passover…” is not a likely reading. Makes a good “fun fact” though.

My former (Episcopal) pastor noted this phrase in a homily once saying “The only time this phrase gets used in the Bible is to refer to the Resurrection.” He took that to mean the Cana story is only a mystical meditation on the fictional (in his mind) resurrection. The sermon made me angry at the time, but the notes to the Orthodox Study Bible indicate that the phrase sets a “resurrectional tone,” showing that “the marriage of God and His Church will be fulfilled in Christ’s Resurrection”. That turns it into an interesting meditation. Using the Catena App, there are not many commentaries on this phrase. St Bede says it indicates the Third Age of the world (from Creation to Moses, from Moses to Jesus, and from Jesus on). 

This linking of Marriage, Resurrection, and Baptism seems to be the important place if “the entire Gospel” is to be in this – and every – pericope. (Edwards, p. 50 in the Google Play edition).

Finally, the reference to Jewish purification rituals in verse 6. Traditionally such washing had to be done in “living water” which means the ocean, a river, stream, a spring, etc, or from rainwater. Wealthier Jewish homes may have a dedicated pool (called a mikveh) for use by the family. Jewish laws require a certain amount of “living water” to be used but other “normal” water can be brought into contact and – thus ritually purifying all the water to make it acceptable for the ritual. Among other uses, the mikveh was traditional for a bride (and sometimes the groom) to use before the wedding to be in a state of ritual purity. A mikveh requires about 140 gallons of living water or water that had otherwise been purified. (Source retrieved on 9/11/22.) It’s possible the jars are standing empty because the Bride has been to the Mikveh before the wedding. 

Images I’m seeing here: 1) Jesus drawing superabundant life (Wine) from the previously empty jars used for purification after his own baptism. 2) Jesus as Groom and us/church as bride. 3) Post conversion (the baptism last week’s reading) baptism in the Holy Spirit leads to a deeper union with Christ. 4) There’s something interesting about the use of “living water” in a mikveh and Christ promising streams of living water rising up with the believer (John 7:38). The Greek in 7:38 is the same phrase for “living water” in the LXX for Jeremiah 2:13. 

There are several possible messages here: 1) draw a line from the marriage of bride and groom through the Isaiah passage to Christ and the Church; 2) use verse 10 and speak about Jesus as the fulfillment of the covenant; and 3) from baptism in last Sunday’s Gospel to (if you will) living wine as a fulfillment in the charisms of the holy spirit. There’s also a longer, more “lectio” type message that could weave all these together fruitfully over a longer presentation.