But in this time

JMJ

The Paschal Preface in the Roman Rite is only used from Easter to Ascension (or is it Pentecost? I don’t know). It’s present in the Novus Ordo nearly verbatim from the older order. Borrowing from Rome, the same text is also present in the 79 BCP for Episcopalians and in the People’s Anglican Missal for Anglo-Catholics of an older school. It’s a solid part of the Western Liturgical Tradition, both Roman and elsewhere.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. …Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory,as they acclaim:

Sitting at home earlier this week, livestreaming Mass, I heard that phrase again. And it struck me: …in this time above all… the phrase is there even in the Latin, …in hac potissimum… Even in this Covidtide above all. What does it mean to praise God in a time of plague?

Church history is filled with answers to this question. From the earliest Church that knew persecution in Rome, Africa, and Asia Minor, to the missionaries who brought the gospel and their own death to the farthest corners of the world. Through the Middle Ages where the Black Death rained on the church so hard that she changed the prayer called the Hail Mary, adding from then on the second half, “pray for us now and in the hour of our death” to the prayer. To the 80s where she ministered to those with AIDS the sick and the dying even when we didn’t know that touching people could not give you the disease. The church knows plague and the church knows how to praise God in these times.

Yet, to be honest, the church’s knowledge and her experience is not mine. I do not know how to do this. Do any of us know how to do this? How do we praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Looking back at blog posts before mid-March of this year is not a trip down memory lane, but rather trip in the TARDIS to some other part of the space-time continuum. Then something happened in the middle of that month and the tone changes. I confess I forgot how to praise God. Fear is a human emotion and it’s ok: even Jesus was afraid. But letting fear run your life is not: acting on fear is proof of a lack of trust in God. You cannot make prudent decisions if the only thing or the strongest thing is fear. Prudence requires faith. You can wear masks, socially distance, avoid public gatherings – even Mass, and stay safe out of fear. But it is better for you to do all of that out of prudence. You can also demand your freedom, breath on everyone, and march into state houses with guns. But that’s bravado: which is also fear. You would do none of those things out of prudence.

To be blunt: acting on even economic fear is evidence of a lack of trust in God. Acting on political fear is even greater proof of the same lack of faith. God and his Church have been victorious over several dictators, not by political action, but by grace, miracles, and prayer.

So. How to praise God in this time yet more gloriously? Can we be overcome with paschal joy and exult in God’s praise?

The clue is in that next line: overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise. The true joy of the Resurrection means that this life is not all, this world is not the end, or, as the preface for a requiem says, life is not ended, only changed. Paschal joy is unstoppable: not because it goes on after death but because death is no more.

In mid-March, death became very real. Not that anyone was dying around me – although I have no way of knowing until all the random phone calls and checkins stop, probably next year. But death was real: literally any one of us could have been dead in 14-21 days. It has taken most of April to weed out of my life the things that were fear-based instead of prudent. Washing hands is not fear based. Washing hands and wearing gloves and using sanitizer (maybe both before and after putting on the gloves, as one store made me do) is fear-based. That store now offers the choice (gloves or sanitizer): but for a week after shopping there I was terrified I was not doing enough. Even in normal times, some friends make folks take their shoes off before entering the apartment. Since there is no vestibule in this apartment, this is not a shared affectation. Until now. That started as fear-based, but it actually is prudent: I’ve noticed what tracks in on my shoes from The Streets of San Francisco and ewwwww.

So, how laud him yet more gloriously? How to praise him with great praise as Tolkien paraphrased on the Field of Cormallen, even – or especially – in this time?

He has shown us, people, what is good and what is required of us: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micha 6:8). I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Love one another as I have loved you: no one loves more than to lay his life down for his friends (John 15:12-13). This is how we might become even like Angels while on earth, who “excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word” and are commanded to “praise the Lord” (Psalm 103:20).

This is our duty. No saint has ever signed a petition to “demand her rights” even to Sacraments. But almost all the saints have freely given up even their lives and their freedom to save others. No saint has ever unlawfully taken up arms to force others to change… in the name political Terrorism even cryptically named “Economic Liberty” whatever that is. But many a saint has laid down their lives to protect others from such terror. No saint has ever given up his trust in God out of fear of local gov’t’s or nameless, faceless, enemies to “take matters into his own hands.” These are the steps of those who are not praising God, but are only acting out of fear: not prudence.

Praise is an act of faith. An act of trust. And an act of humility. There is a reason the stereotypical image of “praise and worship” involves the exact same posture of those caught by the law. “Hands up” is an act of surrender. The surrender is required of those engaged in praise. It’s the definition, the physical and emotional reality, the sacrament of “walking humbly”. For Jesus it meant giving freely, being arrested in silence, bearing injustice, and death. That was his most-glorious praise of his Father. He did that not out of fear (even though he was afraid) but out of prudence and out of love.

What does our most-glorious praise look like?

Sometimes it’s totally needed

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Verba quae ego loquor vobis, a meipso non loquor.
Pater autem in me manens, ipse fecit opera.

The words that I speak to you, I speak not of myself. 

The Father who abideth in me, he doth the works.


The Father speaks… the Father does… the Father abides in me. And elsewhere, “I and the Father are one.”

Jesus is God acting for us, but equally important: Jesus is God acting with us. This is so central to Christianity: the incarnation. If Jesus is not God, Christianity is entirely meaningless. What we have left – without the incarnation – is a few platitudes you can get from Socrates, the Hebrew Scriptures, Lao Tzu… pretty much anyone, really. And they are spoken by a total nut case that repeatedly makes the blasphemous claim that he is God. I don’t need a nut case to teach me to love my neighbor, neither do you.

But if Jesus is God acting for us, acting with us, then something important is happening.

Once I read a book called Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Drawing on primary sources, the writer claims – happily enough –  it was because of all the things we believe about him as Christians. The man made blasphemous claims. He misinterpreted scriptures. He made poor political choices. He was a nut case.

So you have a choice to make: to side with those who say all these claims are false. Or to side with those who say all these claims are true. To say he never made these claims is a red herring: both his enemies and his friends say he made these claims.

You choice is who do you trust.

Elsewhere St Paul says that in rejecting Jesus, the people of Israel allowed the Gospel to be brought to the Gentiles. Today’s reading from Acts is the same: Vobis oportebat primum loqui verbum Dei : sed quoniam repellitis illud, et indignos vos judicatis aeternae vitae, ecce convertimur ad gentes. To you [the Jews] it behoved us first to speak the word of God: but because you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold we turn to the Gentiles. 

Paul says, elsewhere, that he would give anything to bring his own people to the Gospel. But he knows God will work that out in the end – and through their rejection, a beautiful thing has happened. The Gospel has gone into all the world. And this has come up in the last few days’ readings: the persecution in Jerusalem spread the Church all over the Eastern Mediterranean world. The persecution in Damascus and Antioch pushed the Church to the edges of the known world. In rejection the Gospel is not weakened, but rather is pushed further in God’s grace.


We forget that in Christ we are not doing things, but rather letting God do through us. We are not speaking or teaching, but rather letting God teach through us.  Our success or failure is not on the worldly plan (did we keep that Job, get that mortgage, win the big game) but rather on the heavenly plan; Was the Kingdom of God advanced?

This is only true because this was God acting with us; because Jesus is God acting with us. In the Gospel we are drawn out of the machinations of this world, out of the power plays in this world, into the action of God. We don’t just “get a job” by “acing an interview”. We get a new group of souls to shepherd. We don’t simply find a a new home, or get a lucky parking space: we are given a new mission field. When we turn to these places (instead of God) as sources of comfort, as possessions instead of commissions, we compromise our souls. It takes full on rejection to get us back on track.

Tertullian says, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. We needn’t go that far, but if we need that reminder, it is God’s grace that brings it to us. Let us be open to that dance. 

Deep Data from before the Beginning of Time.

JMJ

The Readings for Thursday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Hujus Deus ex semine secundum promissionem eduxit Israel salvatorem Jesum,
Of this man’s seed God according to his promise, hath raised up to Israel a Saviour, Jesus. 

Of this man’s seed. This one guy. God doesn’t do abstractions. God does particularities. One particular family (Abraham, not Lot), one particular son (Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau); one People, Israel; one particular tribe, Judah. One Family, Jesse. One Son, David. One Family, One Son, One God: Jesus.

This is the thing that always drives people crazy: the God of the Bible does not work in vague abstractions but in solid particularities.

Our lives are rather the same: being very devoid of abstractions and filled with particularities. This makes sense for we are made in God’s image. But what child, if asked, would ever say, “I’m a toddler”? Would she not rather say,  “I’m two and three quarter years old!” Only with vanity does culture teach us how to say “Twenty Nine Again…” We confuse data points with reality, forgetting that data is made up on anecdotes and anecdotes are people. Lives. Human lives of particularities.

God doesn’t care about data points: God loves you.

Christianity: the doctrine that an infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent person created a universe literally billions of light years across, filled with a near infinity of galaxies, stars, planets, and even, maybe, beings all to have a deeply personal and intimate relationship with you.

Particularities. Not Abstraction.

You, my dear reader, are not a data point. 

I watch my “hit meter”.  I don’t know much about my blogger stats, but I do know that when I use the Arabic word for the Greek ascesis or the Slavonic, podvig; when I use the Arabic word I can get a few extra hundred hits. I don’t know who they are, they are all Data Points. But my average is about 40-50 hits per post. Hits. Clicks. Views. Actually: People, right? Abstractions are cool and all, but each view is actually a pair of eyes with one brain behind them. There is one person, one image of God reading my blog.

How much of life is only abstractions rather than particularities? How many times are we willing to see the forest, but not the trees? How many websites make choices based on percentage points rather than pain points; on click bait and not content? How many media companies make choices based on eye balls and not morals? How many politicians make promises based on polls and not values?

If you clicked through to this post from Facebook or Twitter it was because some Media Data put my post in front of your eyes. And you clicked: making a data point in someone’s dossier on you. And me. This is not a privacy rant: I don’t care. I have to use social media to evangelize just as St Paul did. But I’m never writing for abstractions: only for persons.

God has created you, Dear Reader, for a purpose, a mission. God has given you a specific set of experiences, of challenges, of gifts, of weaknesses, to be of particular use in a certain way at a certain time. You are not a random accident waiting to happen. You are a particularity, a scandal of particularity, whom God loves deeply and personally.

A challenge: as God raised up one man of one house of one tribe of one people, can you move through the world focused instead of diffused, looking at instead of “seeing”, connecting with persons instead of “being present”? Can you be one person talking to one person, not points in a continuum?


Hanukkah in the Nile.

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)

Quousque animam nostram tollis? si tu es Christus, dic nobis palam.
How long dost thou hold our souls in suspense? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. 

The Feast of the Dedication. Jesus is chilling in the temple at Hanukkah. The crowds are like, “Really, Say Something”. His reply is “When I speak you don’t listen. When I perform the prophesied signs, you ignore them.” I’m reminded of the folks who eliminate sayings they don’t like from the Bible and then say, “But Jesus never claimed to be God…”

These are the answers we have, the text that we have, the Jesus we have. You can do do the Bible what Peter Jackson did to Lord of the Rings, or you can settle in and wrestle with it, with the claims it makes, with the pictures it paints. But really we do this all the time, right? The addict who ignores all the signs of her addiction. The couple that ignores all the signs of their relationship’s demise.  The young Christian who ignores how dangerous sex is to his prayer life. The parish that ignores the culture outside until everyone is dead inside and no new members come in.

When something makes us uncomfortable we are willing to get so deep in denial that if we could come up for air we’d see the Pyramids.

Jesus says that his sheep will see what’s going on and understand. But if we’re not of his sheep we won’t get it. Well that makes it seem like a lot of folks are congenitally out of the picture, right? That’s not what he’s saying at all. Yet to become a sheep you have to take a risk: step out of line with the world and try trusting Jesus.

If you won’t accept any answers only because they were not the answers you wanted, then you’re never going to find Truth. You can sit on the sidelines and say “Show me” and “Prove it”. Or you can watch folks walking on fire and try it yourself.

The only thing you have to lose is the fear.