Weekend Update

JMJ

AN EMAIL Arrives reminding me that today, the First Saturday of November, is the Antiochian feast for my Patron Saint, Raphael of Brooklyn. His feast is in February in the Russian use, I usually miss this one. Raphael is considered the patron of all the Lost Sheep of North America. I figure I still fit that bill. So I rely on his prayers, no matter how I stray.

By coincidence – which is a pagan word – a book arrives also today, Praying from the Free-Throw Line – for Now, by the late Minka Sura Sprague. I started reading it at dinner tonight, sitting in GyroXpress on Castro. It’s good to hear her voice again in my head. She served as my Spiritual Director, although we never used such language in those days, and she counseled me through a number of things including breakups and my first three semesters of Hebrew at NYU. In the earliest pages of the book I learned the origin of the line she shared with me, In the Old Creation people said “no” unless there was a good reason to say “yes.” In the new creation, we say “yes” unless there is a good reason to say “no.” I also learned, in those same pages, that she suffered from panic attacks. Sometimes debilitating her for days. I never knew that. She used the yes/no mantra in part to avoid making choices out of panic, to lean into her faith in God for strength to do things she could not otherwise do. Since “panic attack” was not a phrase we used in those days, did she impart that mantra to me because she saw that I, too, had the same debilitating fear? In this book she refers to the “divine-design”, a hyphenated phrase just like that. There is no coincidence: luck is for pagans. I have Minka’s wise guidance just when I need her.

I had my final preaching assignment today. I preached what I posted earlier. I left out of that homily the seed that planted it all in my head. Not ten seconds after I was assigned Holy Family Sunday for a homily, this story popped into my head:

Just out of college I took a job as Assistant Manager at the Episcopal Bookstore in NYC. There were two 2nd Avenue storefronts to deck out through the year, especially, of course, at Christmas. 

Once I painted the Blessed Virgin on foam core. 

Her hands were upraised in prayer and the infant king occupied an oval place in her womb like our window up here above the Creche. 

It was a style the Orthodox call “the virgin of the sign”.  

I invited customers, coworkers, and neighbors to donate pictures to the window display. All of us defining family in any way – pets, children, spouses, partners – were welcome to participate. 

“Let us all be the holy family”, I said.

I got an anonymous letter – remember letters? – from someone complaining that my invitation was too condescending to people who didn’t have “normal” families. They were offended and felt excluded. They had no family. Not even pets. They would never come back to my store.

30 years later I still worry about them.

Minka pulled me into her family as surly as did my Brother Knights mentioned in the homily. Minka’s kids all made comments (conveyed to me by herself) that helped me fine-tune my journey. When I walk, I have my brother Webb and my sister Caroline by my side (they may have other names now… they did when I first met them as well, as did I). We all walk in the New Creation together with their mother and my friend, and St Raphael. He is considered the Patron of the Lost Sheep of America, as I mentioned, and I certainly fit that name!

By the divine-design it’s the 3rd Shabbat of the Annual Cycle. This week’s Torah Reading is called לֶךְ-לְךָ‎ Lech Lecha. It tells the beginning of Abram’s story, called out of Ur of the Chaldees to be a blessing for all people. Lech Lecha is sort of a one-two punch because it means GO YOU GO! But, as the Rabbis point out, it also means “go to yourself“. Abram had to find himself in order to understand God or, more to the point, had to come to God in order to find his true self.

Suddenly I’m hearing the story of the Prodigal Son differently. Luke 15:17 says that the Prodigal “Came To Himself“. We have to come to God to know ourselves fully. We have to wait, trusting in God, to even begin to know who we are. The Lost Sheep of America do not know themselves. They think they do, they demand their “rights” and their identities, but they don’t even know who they are.

Because they are without God and reject his gift to them of their very selves.

We have been saying no no no, when we should say yes yes yes yes yes.

Yes

It’s like a tap-dance
Or a new pink dress,
A shit-naive feeling
Saying yes.

Some say Good morning
Some say God bless –
Some say Possibly
Some say yes.

Some say Never
Some say Unless
It’s stupid and lovely
To rush into Yes.

What can it mean?
It’s just like life,
One thing to you
One thing to your wife.

Some go local
Some go express
Some can’t wait
To answer yes.

Some complain
Of strain and stress
The answer may be
No for Yes.

Some like failure
Some like success
Some like Yes Yes
Yes Yes Yes.

Open your eyes,
Dream but don’t guess.
Your biggest surprise
Comes after Yes.

Muriel Rukeyser

The Holy Family

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner!

JMJ

The assignment was a 7 minute homily on a specific feast in the Advent/Christmas cycle. My assigned day is Holy Family Sunday (which is actually a Friday this year).

Be available to be someone’s chosen family.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTIMATE thing you can do with someone in public? Any guesses? 

It’s eating together. Sharing food is the most intimate thing you can do.

We eat together with our families and our most intimate friends. Yes, we might also eat together at work – team building is important! Dates. Proposals. Business deals. We do these all over food (and drinks, of course).

We see this every day, downstairs, at the Lima Center where guests need not only food but also love, social interaction, and simple human decency.  Come for our famous Chicken Adobo and showers, but stay for the feeling of being one of the family.

As a devotion, the Holy Family enters the Church recently: Showing up in France in the 18th Century. It doesn’t catch on for nearly 200 years, becoming a feast for the whole church only in 1921. 

It’s one of those curious feasts that does not mark an event or date, but rather an idea. The devotion was intended to show families how to be.

Paul calls the steps here:

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, Bearing with and forgiving one another…  in love… and the peace of Christ

This does describe Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but Paul is actually telling us how to live in our own families. 

Who would not want to gather around a table with a family like this? 

 The Holy Family devotion arose at a time when the family as we knew it had been destroyed by the industrial revolution. Gone were the days when multiple generations lived and ate together, caring for each other. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would not have known themselves as a “nukular family” but as part of an extended tribe of support. They become a good aspirational image for how the family could be – despite the changes of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

But what of now? 

San Francisco is a city of broken families. Not only divorce – although certainly that. From the Gold Rush to the Tech Booms, people are called to the City by the siren song of the Petshop Boys.

Go West! 

Everyone goes west. 

Not always happily: sexual choices or drug issues cause families kick out their children. Wives leave their husbands. 

Families crash and break up on one rock or another and the flotsam and jetsom end up here, eating alone. 

Walking away from the past, hopes are high. 

Yet, the dark side is here, too: when things don’t work here, the westernmost city, where else is there to look for  “​​compassion, kindness, and patience”?  

San Francisco had at one time the highest suicide rate in the country (today it’s Las Vegas).

Sociologists see two types of families: “Birth Families” and “families of choice”. San Francisco author, Armistead Maupin, calls them “Biological Families” and “Logical Families”. He suggests folks come to this city – mostly alone – and weave new, Logical Families together to replace the Biological ones back east, in the past. 

What shall we – the Church that dines weekly (or daily) with the Holy Family – do about the flotsam and jetsom? Not just at homeless ministries, but in our homes.

When Christ calls us to welcome the stranger do we imagine them at our family table? 

My Catholic faith has been blessed and strengthened by two Brothers in the Knights of Columbus. Their families have welcomed me into their homes, especially at holidays and family events, helping me at difficult times, and making me feel included. I’m honored their children call me Uncle Huw! 

Is there someone in the pews for you to invite home? Do you have room around your table for a new aunt or uncle from St Dominic’s?

Let me and my Catholic extended family invite you to see the Holy Family as a model for us to be someone’s family in this city of singles. Try weaving Maupin’s phrase, “Logical Family” with one of the Greek titles for Jesus, “The Logos” the word. That’s where “logical” comes from, anyway.  Mary and Joseph are – literally – a family of Jesus’ sovereign choice, the Logos family. 

In the Holy Family we have a beautiful family of choice to emulate. 

Joseph embodies the virtues of strength, family support, and courage, Mary, full of grace, is courageous as well, and loving: a Jewish woman who keeps her home orderly so her husband can raise their son in the faith and traditions of Israel. Jesus is a stranger, not theirs and yet fully their own. And Jesus, one of us in all ways except sin, is almighty God living in humble obedience to his chosen parents. 

When making me part of their Logical Families, my Brother Knights model the Holy Family for me – for all of us.  

We can, through the Holy Family’s intercession, consecrate ourselves as new Logos families gathered around larger tables. Not only at Christmas but year-round. Our Holy Families of Choice can become the places described in the psalm:

Where we can eat the fruit of our handiwork and be blessed.

Extend an invite. Go blessed!

We can choose to build huge, intimate families of uncles and aunts for our children, including us all in the arms of faith and love around our dining tables and around this table where the God of all Love, of all community, of all family, gives himself to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity. 

Let us eat together with God, inviting all the world with us around this Eucharistic Table. 

There’s plenty of room here.

Let us all be the Holy Family!


This is Not a Paid Advert

JMJ

YOUR HOST JUST FINISHED his first semester studying Hebrew with Citizen Cafe Tel Aviv. I wanted to take a moment (ie, a Blog Post) to endorse, recommend, and otherwise invite. Citizen Cafe promises to get you to fluency in local, spoken Hebrew. They do not focus on reading or writing (at least in the early levels – I know in advanced classes they do read papers and stories). One semester is NOT enough, of course, but I feel a lot more fluent that I did 4 months ago.

The goal is to free the Hebrew in your head so that you have the courage to speak it. They use a very rapid-fire conversational technique combined with pop culture references. (Earlier, I posted a playlist of songs from class.) Some things that did not happen in my earlier Hebrew classes (or other language classes, for that matter): learning slang, learning to “listen fast” – hearing conversation and singing without having to say, “slow down…” – and learning to argue!

Why? You may ask.

When I studied Modern Hebrew at NYU – after failing other languages – I took to Hebrew rather well. It’s still the only other language that comes up in my dreams. What I said during the intake interview was that 35 years later (after NYU) I have a lot of Hebrew floating around in my brain. I wanted it to find a home. Citizen Cafe has helped a lot! Again, #NotAnAd (I get no referral credits here… this is just a love letter.)

Although I can recite prayers in Latin and, sometimes, in Irish and (briefly) in Welsh, I can actually pray in Hebrew. By that I mean I can put enough of my conscious mind forward in the words I’m saying to leave my deeper mind free for contemplation. Mind you, this is for words that I know, of course. However, my ability to read prayers out of the sidur or out of the scriptures has also improved.

Additionally, I’ve been writing my own spiritual texts, but I don’t know if they hold up grammatically.

שוע, קח הכל. כל מה ששלך רומם. כל מה שלא שלך האבד. כל מה שחסר יושלם בך.

Jesus, take it all: All that is yours, exalt. All that is not yours, destroy. Everything that is lacking will be completed in you.

The last line is from a song by Shilo Ben Hod. The first line too, although that’s a more common line in many worship songs and meditations from the saints. The whole prayer began meditating on that last line. I say it at communion time and any other time when we need to make an offering of what we are doing.

Anyway, I had so much fun in this semester’s Hebrew class that I signed up again for next semester. And I am happy to suggest others should try Citizen Cafe Tel Aviv. You may not be lucky enough to get my teacher, Lior, who is quite perfect, but they have a LOT of teachers. Anyone you get will be awesome!

I’ve moved up from Orange to Pink. Can you help me buy a copy of שר הטבעות (Lord of the Rings)?

יאללה ביי

No Longer Strangers

JMJ

THIS READING CAME UP a week or so ago on the Feast of St Simon and his buddy. It’s been a bit of a wrestling match since then. Getting along with Christians who disagree with us is part of this (that’s where our preacher took it last Friday). But it’s the relationship between our elder brothers, the Jews who follow Messiah, that interests me most here.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (RSVCE)

St Paul wrote this in 60 or 62 AD. And here we are nearly 2000 years later. So, by way of reminder: Paul is writing to a community made of of Jews and Gentiles who, together, have come to believe the Jesus is the Messiah long promised to the people of Israel. In this belief, they (Jews and Gentiles together) are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These two groups feud a bit, ok. But here’s the rub. I think we hear it backwards today.

The issue with Jews and Gentiles was not only “should Gentiles become Jewish first…” (ie, get circumcised, etc). We can read it in Galatians as if it’s Gentiles doing Jewish things because they don’t feel on equal footing to be actually following the Jewish Messiah. Paul calls them, “You Foolish Galatians” for this. Who bewitched you? So some (at least – more? all?) of what Paul is writing is to Gentiles who do not need the courage to face off against the “Judaizers” but rather they need to be assured – in their own faith – that they are worthy to stand why they are. Remember, last week (hyperbolically) these Gentiles were killing bulls for the Magna Mater and offering incense to Caesar. Now they are following YHVH. What do they need to do? Nothing other than believe in Jesus. Paul says he used to persecute the Church and now he’s an apostle! How are we good enough?

In other words, what if Judaizing was the “pastoral accompanying” of the 1st century? You don’t feel good enough? We can make things easier for you: let me get my knife, and give up your bacon and sausage as well…

Paul assures the Gentiles that they, “are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”. This must refer to the covenanted household of Israel. There’s only a handful of Gentile believers in the world. There’s not even one generation of dead Christians yet. There’s about 2000-3000 of them (Gentiles and Jews together) at this point, honestly. Unless Paul means to limit that “household of God” to those 2500 people, then he’s reassuring his Gentile flock that they have been united to something much bigger than themselves. In Romans he will remind Gentiles that they have been grafted into Israel. It’s we (I’m a gentile, too) who are outsiders here, strangers, aliens. And Paul is telling us that through Jesus, we’re good enough to be here.

A lot of times when I hear these verses expounded they usually get read to be about the Jews trying to make us do things “like them”. It never gets around to the possibility it was Gentiles were not feeling included from our side; because of our own insecurity. Paul seems to be saying, Look, in Yeshua we’re all in this together. Gentiles have been united to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are no longer strangers in Israel. Mind you, I know that Jews would disagree with this reading soundly. But some good part of this is based on 2000 years of Gentile bully of Jews. Romans, for example, reads more as if Gentiles were trying to bully Jews into eating bacon. And Paul has to remind his Gentile followers that they have been grafted in and they can be cut out again, too.

Personally, it feels as if sometimes a fascination with “Jewish Roots” can be a type of envy: I have no history, no tribe, no culture other than that of a white, middle class, American male. Because of the chaos of the last few decades, I’m not really tied to “American” except by a reference to a common mythology about cherry trees and fireworks. What my grandparents fought for as “freedom” is deemed nearly-fascist oppression now. Persons born in the last 20 years would feel overly burdened by even my parents’ generational ideas of “gender roles”. And, even embedded in the culture, some are honest enough to admit it’s only about marketing. So, being disconnected from the past by our current world – but rejecting the present as hopelessly silly – I have no culture. From the 90s on, I’ve sought one: ancient religions, ancient languages, even ancient clothing. Gentiles of the 1st and 2nd Century AD would have been in the same boat: entirely cut off from their pagan past and their pagan present, they tried latching on to Judaism as a cultural home. It makes perfect sense. Here, at last, was a culture, traditions, language, and a people of which God fully approved. Heck, he (God) even spoke in Hebrew at the Creation of the World.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃

And God said, “yhee ohr”. See? He spoke Hebrew.

So why not convert to this culture as well as this religion?

But to retreat into this culture is to miss the boat entirely. God set up Israel, by Covenant, as a sacrament for the whole world; a sign and a reminder of the Eden that was – and was lost – and the Eden that will be in the World to Come. In Messiah, we Gentiles partake fully of that sacrament. We become not the sacrament but the presence itself. You are what you eat, but when we take communion we don’t become only more bread, but rather Jesus. And more ourselves as God intends.

Israel was the Host in the Monstrance. Now we eat, partake, and go out into the world to do the Gospel. The temple is no longer only in Jerusalem but in all the world.

We are grafted in. And in the grafting, the whole tree is changed.

In the Beginning

Genesis 1:1-6:8

JMJ

THIS PAST SABBATH (that is, Sat 22 Oct) marked the beginning of the annual reading of the Torah, the 1st Five Books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Jewish tradition is to cycle through the whole Torah in a year in very predictable ways. Last Saturday was Shabbat Bereshit. This Saturday, the 29th, is Shabbat Noach. I’m no Torah Scholar, nor even an Old Testament expert, but I wanted to mark the passing this Sabbath by highlighting what seems a major difference between the way Christians read this passage and the way it is read in Synagogues. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a bit since a lot of Christians seem not even to recognize the difference exists.

The difference is at the point of Eve and Adam’s Sin. What happened?

First, I want to point out that where we are today in our discussions of Sin is only built on where they were in the days of Jesus, St Paul, and even Augustine. The Catechism of the Church calls original sin a mystery that we cannot fully understand (¶404) and it’s not something that can be parsed out fully, even in a blog post. But neither is it easily sorted out in internet soundbites: it’s not a mere legal issue. We’re not all guilty of the sin of our first parents- only Adam and Eve committed their sins. Yet we are all born somehow implicated in those sins.

Coincidently, I was wrestling with this nearly a year ago as well.

I prefer to think of it as a sort of Spiritual DNA: the human (spiritual) genome was mutated by our first parents. They cannot pass on what they do not have – everyone gets the mutated genes. These genes incline us toward sin the same way a psychological disorder inclines one to kleptomania or disordered sexuality. Likewise, each succeeding generation of humans cannot pass on anything they don’t have: in fact, it gets worse as we go on.

Yet even this genetic idea fails at several points: we are baptized “for the remission of sin” as if we have each committed some action that makes us guilty, even as babies. Each of us is somehow guilty at this point. Of what, though? I don’t know. Even so, we’re not taught the doctrine of Original Sin as if part of a system of plus and minus points. Rather we start out in an infinite deficit repairable only by Sacramental Grace.

Reading God and His Image by Fr Dominique Barthelemey, OP, I’ve come to a different sense of our First Parents and our Spiritual DNA.

The issue is not that we’re broken and keep sinning: it’s that we’re broken and can’t see God.

Adam and Eve experienced an intimacy with God that we’ll never know. Do you remember the old line, “Don’t do that to your face or it may freeze that way”? Barthelemey says that, basically: Eve and Adam imagined a different god (not the Creator God of Love) and their spirits froze that way. The act of hiding from God in the garden is the first fruit of this new and evil imagining. (My essay from last year has more on this.) Cain killing Abel is the next fruit. Humanity is created in God’s image but with the fall the mirror is distorted. Until we can see him at all, this isn’t going to work. God spends the next several millennia bringing humanity to a collective place where they can image him correctly. It’s not just with the Jews, either. As the Church Fathers say, God was preparing everyone: Socrates and Plato, Aristotle, and Lao Tzu. All cultures have seeds of the Logos in them, waiting for the Real Thing to arrive in Jesus and unfold the hidden meanings. But Israel gets the most (and the most direct) revelation pre-loaded. They are to be a light for the gentiles in their relationship with God. We are to follow them and younger brothers follow their elders’ lead to the Father.

Rabbinic Judaism as we see it now has no conception of this brokenness.

Yet it was somewhere present in the 2nd Temple Period: Paul comes up with “as in Adam all die” and “all creation groans” with nary even a hint of an apology. The problem arises for us now projecting our current Judaism (or our current Christianity) back on the 1st Century AD. There were multiple Judaisms at that time, one of which evolved into Christianity as we know it today in all its various forms. Another evolved into the Judaism we know today in all its various forms.

That said, there are multiple readings of the stories in the Bible and even the site I linked above says they are concerned with fundamentalist readings. Catholicism hardly qualifies, but I’m sure some would disagree. The Dominican Essay above is a Catholic reading of the Bible, it’s not the Catholic one. Former Evangelicals have a reading that, while Catholic, still sounds kinda Evangelical. The clergy over at Catholic Stuff podcast have another reading which I rather like.

No resolution is offered here, only noting that we do not read these passages the same way. It’s important to note that in deciding on the right reading (or family of readings) there’s no way to reconcile what now must become the wrong family of readings.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

One God and Father of All, who is over all, through all, and in all.

Ephesians 4:6

P AUL CONTINUES HIS Meditation on the Fatherhood of God. It’s important to note that Paul is speaking to Pagans (and some Jews) who are now followers of Jesus. It’s important because of the difference in theology. In the Greco-Roman world there were a few “crossbreeds” of divine (or semi-divine)+humans. Some of these even resulted in traced bloodlines: for example, Caesar was divine, but his children were not (unless someone should become Caesar). But the bloodline of Egypt was considered divine (even as it was petering out). Alexander was called a god, but those who came after him, not really. Although they played it up a bit.

Now, here’s a father who loves you. Who wants what is best for you and – at the same time – what is best for everyone.

Why say no? Well, to be honest… we all know the answer. Yes, sin but it’s not enough just to say, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the realization that this Father requires everything:

  • Certainly Submission to his will; but also
  • full reliance on him even when you don’t understand
  • even for the little things which he enjoys doing for you
  • trust (faith) even when the lights have all gone out and it’s time to move forward
  • accepting that what he knows is best might actually hurt
  • an active, ongoing participation in the relationship
  • ideally, asking him for help means letting him do it
  • not letting anyone else get in line ahead of him; and finally
  • he’s got a list of do’s and don’t’s to talk about and he’s serious. They are not the one’s you think. Yes, sure, don’t kill anyone, for example, but don’t get angry with them either.

This Father is more than Dad.

He’s God.

And we need to let him be God, or this isn’t going to work out.

But if we let him do things his way, “over all, through all, and in all” will make perfect sense to you as will St Paul’s other interesting line about God, “In whom we live and move and have our being”.

How can you refuse?

Pro Patria

JMJ

The Readings for the 29th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

From whom every family on earth is named.

Ephesians 3:15

THERE IS A WORDPLAY here: the Greek word for Family is the same as the word for Father. Patria. In Latin Patria does double-duty as Father and Country (as in Fatherland) although some countries are “mother” like Russia. Anyway, Lay aside any issues the reader may have with God picking his own pronouns and focus on what Paul is actually saying here. Paul is paralleling the relationships of a person with their natural father, on the one hand, with the relationship of a redeemed person (in Christ) with God the Father.

Through the Spirit (sent by the Father) may the Son dwell in your heart that you may know the fullness of God within you.

It’s one of my favorite Bible passages, with Paul waxing poetic (and mystical) about “the breadth and length and height and depth” with nary an object in sight. Some translations stick in the love of Christ here, so that we can know that love, but that’s not the point. We’re not comprehending the love of Christ at all. “The breadth and length and height and depth” refer to the fullness of God.

Christ’s love is there… to give us the strength… to bear up with our high calling as Sons of God on earth. That’s not a metaphor: you have an earthly father, and now you have a Heavenly One as well. St Francis and a few others would say instead.

We are called to live, on earth, participating in the fullness of the Trinitarian Fellowship. Members of the Body of Christ (again, not a metaphor, but a spiritual reality) offering continually the Son’s worship of the Father, as Sons in the Son, and the love between us is the Holy Spirit.

This is the Fire that Jesus sets on the earth, mentioned in the Gospel. And this fire does divide us from those around us: if it’s not doing so, something is horribly wrong.

Thing is: we are to invite others into the fire with us.

Srugim Theme Song

JMJ

OK, I knew I liked the song, but I wasn’t picking out many words except the bit about this world and the world to come. I had a general idea that it was sorta religious… but wow.

I pursue Your laws, on the one hand
On the other, my passion pursues me.
Ashamed and embarrassed, I will enter Your gates.
And the long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear.

אני רודף אחר חוקיך, מחד
מאידך תשוקתי אותי רודפת
בוש ונכלם אבוא בשעריך
והלילות הארוכים והבדידות ושנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
Where shall I go, to where will I turn, when Your eyes gaze upon me?
Where shall I flee, how will I not turn away?
Between truth and truth,
Between law and practice.
Between the days of yore and modern times.
Between the hidden and the revealed,
Between the world to come and this world.

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה, כשעיניך מביטות בי
איכה אברח, איך לא אפנה
בין אמת לאמת
בין הלכה למעשה
בין הימים ההם לזמן הזה
בין הנסתר לנגלה
בין העולם הבא לעולם הזה
I pursue Your laws, on the other hand my passion burns me
Fierce as death, terrible as troops with banners
The long nights and the loneliness and the years,
And this heart that has not known peace.
Until the sea becomes quiet, until the shadows disappear
Bring me back!

רודף אחר חוקיך, מאידך תשוקתי אותי שורפת
עזה כמוות, איומה כנדגלות
הלילות הארוכים והבדידות והשנים
והלב הזה שלא ידע מרגוע
עד שישקוט הים, עד שינוסו הצללים
השיבני
Where shall I go, to where will I turn

לאן אלך, אנה אפנה

Not the Right Monks (repost)

Another repost from 2004 LiveJournal.

I know I am, but what are you?

JMJ

I DON’T KNOW WHERE I picked up the line “these are not the right monks”. I know it’s either patristic, or Merton (Sign of Jonas), or Lewis (Screwtape) or Schmemann. Hell, it may be me.

It refers to the idea that all that I’m doing to work out my salvation is wasted because I’m surrounded by idiots or heretics or both. It says, in clearest terms, “These folks are so unholy I’ll never get saved.”

And that saying is a true saying: If I can see how unholy those are around me, I’ll never get saved.

But the sword, decidedly, does not cut both ways. The answer is not in cutting off the neighbor that offends me but rather in plucking out the eye that offends… mine.

I am trapped in a world that constantly urges me to compare myself with others as a measure of “how’m I doin?” And the last thing I want to do is go get some feedback (positive or negative) from those in authority over me. I’d much rather ask the (obviously moronic) dolt who is standing right next to me. And when I get an answer I don’t like? “FEH! What does he know anyway?”

I am overcome this evening by the fact that one of the traditional monastic vows is stability. I know how much I like change, I know how much I need to have my tuchas kicked to get me out of a rut, but really, when I’m honest, I do not enjoy the responsibilities that come with being stable. You stay in one place, stay in one job, stay in one apartment, you don’t ever have to worry about moving, about finding a vocation about living the life God may be calling you to.

Change is, of course, sometimes required… except it’s called “growth” and transformation. The changes we make are in ourselves. It’s called Salvation.

The one thing I’ve noticed is after an idea has percolated in my head, it’s time to ask my Spiritual Father. Yes, I know, cultism rears its ugly head. But that’s the man God has placed in Authority over me. Oddly enough I’ve never brought a major life change to my priest (either of them) that he didn’t bless (like moving to NC, or getting this new job).

And you know, things go better with blessings.

I know, someplace in my heart, that these are the right monks because there are times when I’d really rather be anywhere other than here. I know these are the right monks because when I manage to put my ego away I learn some things that I don’t know. I know that these are the right monks because these are my family. I know these are the right monks because suddenly I see Christ where ever I look: except in my own heart. Most importantly, I know these are the right monks because this is where God has placed me. It’s not a matter of feeling, or of warm fuzzies. It’s a faith thing. When these are not the right monks… I’m losing my faith in God.

So, thank You, God. I’m not really smarter than You. I can’t go one better than You saying “no, really, I know where I’d do better than where You put me. Oddly enough I always seem to do worse there.

Gen X @ 40 (Reposted 18 years later)

An essay from my Live Journal Days, dated 29 Aug 2004, my 40th Birthday. I called it the beginning of midlife. I’m kinda past that now a few years away from Officially Old. So, reposting.

JMJ

Hmmmmmm. Lessee…

  • New two-wheeled vehicle that goes faster than anything I’ve owned previously… Check.
  • Vehicle painted red… Check.
  • Ditched previous friends, jobs, home and relocated… Check.
  • Dated person(s) between half and two-thirds current age… Check (I’ve done that so many times I feel like Tom Sellick in Friends)
  • Consumed with thoughts about the meaning of life, mortality and lack of impact on the surrounding world… Check.

Let Midlife BEGIN!

Ten years ago I was trapped on Fire Island. T was sitting in a hot tub looking off into space like someone who had just died and gone to limbo while we missed ferry after ferry back to Long Island, thus missing train after train back to the City. When I arrived finally, at the class I was to teach that afternoon – nearly 2 hours late (class was two hours long) I slammed open the door, stomped up the stairs and found my co-teacher standing in the middle of the room wearing a face that, well, only J could wear. I started to apologize and, in the long dressing mirror over her shoulder, I saw a gang of people jammed into the corner of the kitchen with flowers and glasses of champagne. They were giggling in the way that people do just before they all yell SURPRISE.

And so, there I was in my first ever surprise party at the age of 30. I had asked for one. I had given my roomie a list of invitees and left it to him. How was I to know that he would conspire with nearly everyone to pull it off?

And here I am, ten years later.

Oddly enough none of the people at that party are still in my life other than the occasional email. I’ve moved from that apartment in Richmond Hill – to a house in Astoria and thence to San Francisco from whence I most recently hied to here, Asheville, NC, CSA. I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard…

I was thinking of profound things to write here, having reached half of my fourscore (if in strength), and so I was ruminating through my past: famous people I have known or touched or with whom I have otherwise congressed; events and actions that made me happy or sad, proud or ashamed; places I’ve gone, things I’ve seen. I stumbled on a pattern that, perhaps, is what I need to work on over the next decade, insh’Allah.

Most of the things of which I am proud are really silly – they are not lasting things but rather only things that made me look important in the eyes of other people. Most of the things of which I’m ashamed are things that really only damaged my standing in the eyes of other people: even the things that now make my stomach churn and my heart drop into my feet are only things that any socially inept person would do. They too are of no lasting value – outside my own ego. The things, however, that I did but would no longer do – the debauchery, the libertinism – of those the only sentiment (for that is all it is) that comes to mind is “they made me what I am today…”

Gack.

For all that I’m sure that I do not want to “go back there”, I can’t seem bring myself to honestly admit (in my heart of hearts) that it was wrong to have been there in the first place. My pride steps in and demands to know “who would we be without our past?” I suddenly know the meaning of the Prophet’s words, “I acknowledge my sin and my sin is ever before me.” Yes, I can admit I was wrong… but I can’t go on as if it never happened.

Who would our fallen first father have been without the fall? Well, we can imagine, we can theorize, but really all we can say is “he’d have been who God created him to be.” We can’t know what that was to have been like for it never happened until Christ.

Who would I have been – who would I be – if I hadn’t been the me I became? Well, as much as I’d like to be that me, I won’t know. The best I can hope for is for that me to finally grow up in God’s time from the grace given in Baptism and the holy Mysteries.

Ten years ago this Autumn I and five friends moved into a house on Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, NY: we called the house Castle Ebola. In organizing that community, I set in motion events that would carry me through that decade: one of the persons I met there was to become my boss in San Francisco, which position would eventually lead me to finishing my BA, going into my vocational discernment process, and in ways that are very difficult to explain, eventually my conversion to Orthodoxy. Yet it was not my *doing* of that all that brought me here, but rather, as Vladyka SERAPHIM noted to me once, “there is grace before and behind”. God’s grace tracked me down; the hound of heaven would not let me go.

We were discussing, yesterday at work, the process by which one moves through the various Twelve Steps to recovery. The more I learn about the Twelve Steps, the more I realize how well they fit with the Orthodox Christian understanding of sin: sin is not a legalistic mumbo jumbo of lawbreaking. It is a sickness we all have. We need to work, to struggle, to pray, to daily strike out against the sickness. But the victory doesn’t come all at once, indeed, it never comes in this life, at least in the sense of getting Olympic Gold. No one will stand me up and raise a flag high while the world looks on. Rather the victory is in the daily on-going struggle to “run the race set before me” as St Paul saith.

When a person enters a Twelve Step meeting and announces that he is an addict and desires to live life clean and sober, he gets what is called a White Chip. He may get different chips of different colours for a week of sobriety, a month, a year. But if he falls, and gets back up again, it all starts over with the White Chip.

When you stretch a look back over decades of addiction, when you stretch a look forward over hypothetic days as yet unnumbered, it can all be very overwhelming. Sobriety stretching into a mythical eternity seems silly and impossible compared to a literal, physical past of addiction and a present of craving. As I said to the community at work today – paraphrasing a sermon Fr J gave a few months ago – Every day, in some way, you pick up a white chip.

Perhaps therein lies the best grace of all, the most joyful birthday gift: I can never know what life would have been like without the last ten – without the last forty – years. I can not know the me that could have been without the sin, without the ego, without the pride, without the mess I made of my life. I can not and I bless God for that grace: without knowing how truly far I have fallen I can not see how far I have yet to climb. I only know I’m not where I should be. I can only see the next step in the race.

I’ve lost my dwarves and my wizard, but I’ve found the Way. On my fortieth birthday, again, I’m given only the grace to pick up my white chip.