The Love that Dares not Speak Its Name

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Saturday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Doleo super te, frater mi Jonatha, decore nimis, et amabilis super amorem mulierum.
I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan: exceeding beautiful, and amiable to me above the love of women.

When I was a kid it was popular to imagine that Advertisers were putting subliminal messages in advertisements, weaving elements of sex and death into magazine pictures using elements of what we would not call “photoshopping”. Rock bands were supposed to be weaving messages about drugs and devil worship into their songs, as well. All of these secrets could be revealed by someone who had discovered the keys.

In like manner, it is fashionable today to read into the ancient stories all of our modern vices. Politicians who don’t openly discount the Ancient Texts see St Paul’s tying of work to eating as an adjuration of welfare and charity, or the Sermon on the Mount becomes a guide to fiscal prosperity. his affliction hits all sides, as we are discovering modern political virtues in Jesus’ Egyptian Sojourn, or in the lack of available rooms in the inns of Bethlehem. (I actually have no problem with the Christian Virtues of care for the poor or the ‘Alien Among You’. I just don’t need to misread the Bible to do it.)  

In few places is this tendency more obvious than in the area of sex. For we are quite clear that, despite all of the content of the tradition, whatever our modern sexual issue is, it is present in the Bible in a good light. So the story of King David and his foster brother Jonathan becomes one of same-sex attraction and romance. So common is this reading that it’s hard to find a modern image of these two men that doesn’t have them somewhat eroticised. 

David and Jonathan become lovers in this reading, with all kinds of “proof” coming from various passages including today’s reading where David sees Jonathan as “above the love of women” which is a paean to the virtue of friendship or what moderns call “Platonic love”. But it is not so if you want to read sex into it. The reply is “how can you not?” And the answer is to note the illogic of the Hebrew writers encoding something so sinful into the lifeline of the great king, David. When David commits lust, adultery, and murder, God sends Nathan the prophet to call the King to repentance. Would not God do the same thing here? Unless, the argument goes, God was ok with this. But we know God’s not because it’s called an abomination, something beneath the level of human moral action. And so the circular logic keeps going. 

We recently (12 January) celebrated the feast of St Aelred of Rievaulx c.1110-1167. He is another saint whose work is twisted by modern vices so that he is now considered the Patron Saint of the Episcopal Church’s gay advocacy group, Integrity. His work De spirituali amicitiâ (On Spiritual Friendship) – a handbook for Celibate Monastics – often gets quoted as advice for same sex relationships! 

In the Gospel today Jesus’ Family think he’s gone mad. Here’s God healing the sick and setting the world afire and his cousins think he’s crazy. We also just celebrated the feast of St Anthony (17 January). The Gospel passage reminds me of a saying attributed this great Father: A time is coming when people will go mad and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us”.

That seems to be where we are now. Women murder their children in utero, people mutilate their own bodies over mental distress, and our society assists them. People who refuse to assist them are called mad. People who refuse to read sex into everything are called unenlightened. People who strive for virtue (including chastity) are derided. All friendships are suspected of being sexual relationships. All communication is coded innuendo. There are puffs of photoshopped smoke in every icon and backward-masked sex plays in every Bible story.

It is as if, with our modern blinders of sex, we want to turn all of history into a coded case of Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink.

In this world, it is friendship that cannot be spoken of. No one believes in it anymore. Sex is everywhere: come play with me!

Yet, by God’s grace, may we all go divinely mad!

And draw our friends into Church.

Kaine Hora

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Thursday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Non rectis ergo oculis Saul aspiciebat David a die illa et deinceps.
And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day and forward.

The king is very angry at David and he gives him a little side-eye, as the kids say now. The NABRE says “was jealous of” but side-eye is better. The Hebrew is very mangled, but the Greek in the LXX is as the Latin, using ὑποβλεπόμενος ypoblepomenos, to look askance. 

Saul is giving David the Evil Eye. In fact it’s only here, in this story, that it even shows up in the Old Testament. Saul goes all ὑποβλεπόμενος on David.  The word is not at all in the New Testament. Can you imagine that Jesus ever looked on anyone ὑποβλεπόμενος?

The evil eye is such a part of Television: antagonists will do it to each other over the garden fence or through lace curtains. In the 80s it was a thing for Alexis to give over cocktails, or JR to shoot over a horse. In the 00s it was something for Boardwalk Empires and Games of things with swords. You look, you let your hate seethe forth. Then you look away. Best, though, if you can lock eyes with (the camera and) your antagonist during the seethe phase. 

Even not believing in the “curse” of it, we still do it though, yeah? Gary Trudeau had it all over Doonesbury. A given character would close off a dialogue and their eyes would go all square. They’d look at the reader and there would be this seethe moment. I think I learned it from there, really. I was totally fascinated with that squared eyeball lock.

As fun as it is, as campy, even, why do we do it? Our politicians love it. Dan Quayle did it when he talked about Murphy Brown. Mrs C did it when she talked about a Basket of people.  Mr T did it when he talked about Mrs C and called her nasty. We seem to love it when we’re talking about our political enemies too: I’ve seen it in YouTube Videos, and on talk shows. Steven “Colber” does it “jokingly” on his talk show but Steven Colbert will do it outright when discussing the wrong sort of politicians. So will Hannity.

I know we no longer believe in such things, but how often do we give the evil eye to even our friends? I did it recently at a dinner party without thinking. There it was, that square-eyed look, that seethe.

I think that needs to stop, folks. Seriously. Not just me, and not just our politicians. But looking at someone as if you could curse them, in general, is not a good look on you – on any of us. 

Cursing is right out. Even with eyes only. Can we rise above this?  

Because It’s…

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Monday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Quoniam quasi peccatum ariolandi est, repugnare: et quasi scelus idololatriæ, nolle acquiescere. Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. 

Samuel goes to Saul to say look, you have sinned in disobeying God, and Saul’s reply is very telling: his men took sheep “to offer sacrifice to the Lord their God” which must be good, right? (Now a sacrifice would be a feast for a family, so, yes, “to the Lord” but also “for all of us…”) They were not, you know, really disobedient. They were doing something good.

But Samuel says, no, that’s not the case. Doing what you are told is good. Disobedience is always bad. How bad? Samuel compares it to Witchcraft and to Idolatry.

We might hear at this point about the “Primacy of Conscience” whereby even an “erring conscience is binding”.  And so we must follow our conscience.  

But Aquinas says “if erring reason [that is, the conscience – DHR] tell a man that he should go to another man’s wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know.” (Summa II.i.19.6) The Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us right.

As Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere. We reform the conscience. We do so for the inculcation of virtue, whereby the knowing and doing of the Good becomes effortless.

Saul was given a clear command of God to kill all the Amalekites and destroy all their wealth. But he ignored that and – doing what any good war leader would do – he allowed for there to be plunder. But God has had it out for the Amalekites since they tried to thwart the Exodus and no one has listened to the command to do them in entirely. Saul fails in this test as well.

Sometimes God commands things that are hard. That’s the way things go. But it is impossible for God to command what is untrue, unjust, or evil, for God is goodness, truth and justice in his person. We cannot fail in love, in truth, justice, or goodness by following God’s commands. It is better to follow these commands than to make up stuff on our own. Aquinas, again, “The eternal law cannot err, but human reason can. Consequently the will that abides by human reason, is not always right, nor is it always in accord with the eternal law.”

Jesus walks us down this path as well, with an interesting saying about sewing and vintnering. 

Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri: alioquin aufert supplementum novum a veteri, et major scissura fit.
No man seweth a piece of raw cloth to an old garment: otherwise the new piecing taketh away from the old, and there is made a greater rent.

Saul wants to take what he knows about running an army and do – mostly – what God has commanded. Our temptation always is to say that we can take our old lifestyle, our old patterns of thinking and just sew on a Christian patch. We can oppress the poor and deny our workers their wages as a Christian. We can be racist as a Christian. We can seek wealth as an end as a Christian. We can do sex outside of Marriage as a Christian. We can do sex inside a Marriage with contraception as a Christian. Samuel compares all of this to Witchcraft and Idolatry. We might as well do fortune telling and play with the Ouija boards and burn incense to Kuan Yin.

Jesus is clear: our old things will tear apart from the patch, our wineskins will burst spoiling both the wineskins and the wine.

Samuel is clear, too: you have rejected God, God has rejected you as king. A king served as priest and teacher for his people. Saul is not fit for either – nor as war leader – because he has decided, when it comes to God’s commands, there might be times when he knows better.

When our conscience wants us to go against God, it is our job to reform the conscience. Not to make an idol of our will, nor to say, with Luther, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir.” (God help me be standing here against God?) Rather we are to say, with David, 

Concupivi salutare tuum, Domine, et lex tua meditatio mea est.
Vivet anima mea, et laudabit te, et judicia tua adjuvabunt me.
Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit: quære servum tuum, quia mandata tua non sum oblitus.

I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation.
My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgments shall help me.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

That’s how not to be a witch.

Politicians.

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Tuesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Ne respicias vultum ejus, neque altitudinem staturæ ejus: quoniam abjeci eum, nec juxta intuitum hominis ego judico: homo enim videt ea quæ parent, Dominus autem intuetur cor.
Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.

The Lord says to Samuel, don’t look at the tallness or his age, nor how handsome he is. God’s not out for a strongman, he’s out for a pious one. David is anointed as the King, as Messiah, even though the other king, Saul, is still living: the crown has already passed even though the ex-king doesn’t know it. His reign will be in the death-throes for a few passages yet. And David will, despite his gingerness, reign with soul.  And he will be the perfect prefigurement of what Israel should be looking for when the Messiah comes, when Jesus is there.

What do we look for today in a leader?

Skills, success, brashness? Perhaps. If we are honest, though, we tend to look for “someone to say what I would say in that leadership position.” On most days, if a Media Personality or Religious Leader says what we don’t like, politically, we say, “Actors should stick to acting…” “Religion and politics should not mix…” Both of these sentiments get tossed, of course, if the Actor or Pastor says something we like.  Here, at last, is a woman (or man) who tells it like it is! I’m with Him/Her! We are, unlike God, easily swayed by persons who say what we want to hear. We may even make tasteful statements about “not judging them” because only God can judge, but we are sure they are true. 

So we pick a side.

And get disappointed.

God looks at the heart. We can’t, to be honest.

Who would God make your football captain? Your Manager? Your Editor? Your President? Do you honestly think the God who picked the youngest, smelliest, and most-socially awkward son of Jesse to be Messiah would pick any of our current crop of angry, muckraking, self-righteous, hypocritical (or lying) politicians? Perhaps to punish us for our sins, as he picked Saul. Maybe we have had one long line of Royal Schmucks…

After his anointing, from that day forward, David had an experience of the Spirit of the Lord that is unlike anyone until Jesus, really. The Hebrew word is צָלַח tsalach. It carries implications of “rushed upon” and “penetrate”. The gif I have in my head is one of those optical illusions that always seems to be coming at you but never gets there.


David became the Ark of the Covenant, literally. Saul never had this. Solomon becomes the embodiment of Holy Wisdom, but  – even with his sins, as we know of later – from that day on, the Holy Spirit rushed upon David.

Can you imagine that being true of any politician today! The thing is, it’s supposed to be true.  

Our leaders don’t have to be Christians: that’s not even a requirement. But they do have to be open to the Spirit of God (even if they don’t know what to call it). God uses what we give him and if it’s Prince Charles, or if it’s Tony Blair, or if we elect Lou Costello from beyond the grave… God will reign anyway. But there’s a huge difference between a Lech Wałęsa and a Herbert Hoover, between a Queen Beatrice and a Prime Minister Quisling. I’m trying not to be partisan in a local context because I don’t know any good guys locally, not since Jimmy Carter, anyway. God will use what we have just as surely as he used what we used to have: both in spite of themselves.

But after a while, God lets a country go: Israel, Alexander, Rome, Byzantium, Russia, whatever. They all get what they deserve for their sins and they fall apart.

Now that we do have a kingdom that shall never pass away, against whom the gates of hell shall never succeed, and we do have a leader upon whom the Spirit of the Lord continually rushes, we have a more important loyalty to which Patriotism plays only second fiddle: so it’s ok if it’s out of tune from time to time. The conductor will fix it.

Wherein Fr Martin is – Briefly – Right

Orthodox Monastic Building a Bridge

 

JMJ 

The Readings for Sunday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Tu es Simon, filius Jona; tu vocaberis Cephas, quod interpretatur Petrus.
Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.

Did you ever notice how long the first Chapter of St John’s Gospel is? I don’t mean in terms of words. But in terms of concepts it goes from “In the beginning was the Word through John the Baptist all the way up to  naming Peter and the calling of the 12 up to “Angels Ascending and Descending on the Son of Man. I know there are no Chapters in the Greek Text, just a series of stories, but dang that’s a lot of stuff.

For a couple of reasons I have, lately, been reading Fr James Martin’s Building a Bridge. Since I enjoy the luxury of only reviewing books I like I’ll not be reviewing this, um, Jesuitical treatise, but I will give credit: this essay comes from a line in that book. Fr Martin was briefly right. Noting that, before he fell, our first Father was given the authority to name the Animals, Fr Martin goes on to cite a number of places in the scripture where names are important including this scene of the Naming of Peter. Abram and Sarai get new names. Israel gets a new name. Jesus’ name and John’s were foretold by angels. God reveals his own name. From this the Jesuit deduces that names are important and we should call people whatever things they pick for themselves. 

His overlooking of a crucial point must be called out: no one in the Bible picks their own name and when God names something it sticks – regardless of what Mamma named ’em.

God reveals real meaning when he names things. God’s very name means Being. Abraham is the father of many. Jesus will save his people. John is the Gift of God, the Forerunner. Simon bar Jonah is the Rock on which Christ will build his Church. Israel means “Struggles with God” and the Church is the New Israel.  We may vainly imagine that what we say goes… but God wins. When God names something, it sticks. 

Fugite fornicationem. Omne peccatum, quodcumque fecerit homo, extra corpus est: qui autem fornicatur, in corpus suum peccat.
Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body.

Sexual sins, Paul says, are unlike any other sin because that are against one’s own body. Paul uses a greek word that is so recognizable in our society today, porneia. Strong comments on this word, that we learn “from 1 Corinthians 6:12ff how leniently converts from among the heathen regarded this vice and how lightly they indulged in it; accordingly, all other interpretations of the term, such as of marriages within the prohibited degrees and the like, are to be rejected.” But we know that now to be True. Not just of Porn, but of all sorts of sexual sins: from rewiring the pleasure centers of our brain, to blocking endorphins, to creating addictions, from weakening the immune system to sharing diseases and strengthening viruses, the misuse of sex injures us. These sins undo us. They ruin us.

These sins cut us into body parts for consumption – first by each other and then later by the demons. I speak in the first person.

Our culture, today, uses the world, Porn, just mean “dirty pictures” and so creates “Food Porn” and “Apartment Porn”. But, in fact, the reverse is true: it is Porn for the right reasons. Marketing and advertising create lustful passions for food, for furniture, for travel, for clothes… each one incites a different passion, yes, perhaps. But each one also turns what might have been a rather garden variety weakness into a full-on, soul numbing drug.

In our numbed state we may try to name ourselves something new, never God breathed, or never even imagined in scripture. We know so much more know. But this name is not true. It is not indelible. It easily washes away.

Jesus renames us in Baptism. He turns away from fornication of all sorts, away from destroying our own souls to life, to himself. He sets us on the Rock where he builds his whole church. And he gives us a new name that none of us know save he, himself.