The Weight of Mists

THIS POST STARTED with Across the Universe, the brilliant cinematic reworking of The Beatles’ ouvre into a story of love, rejection, and nirvanah interwoven with a full on history of the 60s in America. I first watched it when it came out and became obsessed with the Beatles as a result. I’d never really liked them before – too hippie. As an alumnus of one of the most hippie schools in SF, I’m allergic to most hippie things. I’m sitting in the Haight-Ashbury as I type. All around me are the collapsed shells of Boomers lamenting the loss of that paradise. Anyway, I was looking for the song that contained the lyric line, “across the universe” and found it was from the song by the same name. So I was googling the lyrics and stumbled across this amazing remake by Rufus, Moby, and Sean Lennon from like 15 years ago.

It was in this video that I first heard clearly the chanted background lyrics, “Jai guru deva, om”. Something clicked: the Beatles were huge fans (if not devotees) of the Marharishi Yogi. Thus the song’s refrain, “nothing’s gonna change my world” is not a prideful claim of “here I stand and damn all who say otherwise” (as I had heard it and as it seems intended in the movie) but rather a shocked acknowledgment that the realization all is meaningless illusion will change everything. Nothing, literally, is going to change everything I see and how I see it.


As I’ve been thinking more about Hevel, the Hebrew word usually translated “vanity” in English Bibles which is also the name of Eve’s second son – usually rendered Abel. Same word. And same meaning. Eve’s first son, Kain, has a name that means “spear”. So there’s something else there, but I want to stick with mist today in the singular and plural forms.

In the plural – hevelim – it’s often used to describe the idols of the Gentiles. Every Baal, Zeus, and Nuit of the various pantheons, all rolled up together are nothing more than hevelim. So I started to wonder at the meaning of the phrase that’s usually rendered “vanity of vanities” or “hevel of hevelim” and it suddenly seemed to me that that could also mean “mists of idols”.

Chewing on the mystery of mist (mistery? myst?) I stumbled across the idea of “glory” – which in Hebrew is kavod and can also mean weight.

As was mentioned in an earlier post, Ecclesiastes seems to posit that the way to navigate the mists – and to make anything important out of them – is to follow the way of God and thus to infuse the mist with the weight of the only reality that is.

Reading “Transformation in Christ” it seems that the author wants us to do nothing at all without accepting the direction of God to do so. We might want to do something because of our internal desires or passions, or we may want to do something because it is good to do so but without the direction of God to do it is is merely following our own will. And while at first I objected to this idea it comes to me that deciding – on my own – what is good is the very definition of the act of our first parents in the garden: something seemed good and they did it. We might say they “followed their bliss” or, for those a al carte folks, “followed their conscience” which last is a very Catholic idea, but not a sure defense against error as St Thomas teaches. The idea is to conform your conscience and will in the Church to the will of God, then you know that your conscience cannot mislead you. But then, says the author, you’ll not do anything without God’s direction. Seeing the argument that way it made sense.

So this is the way to infuse mist with reality and to avoid the breath of idols. Take nothing without God’s will and according to his direction. To do otherwise is to take the gift without the giver, to make an idol of what may – in another time or place – be a good. In the bad way it’s only more hevel.

Something Greater.

The Readings for the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
The Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast

OUR HOLY MOTHER MARY OF Egypt, as she is called in the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, is perhaps my most-favorite of female saints. Her regular feast day is 1 April which is always in Lent so – like the other saints of this Church Season – she was given a Sunday so that her feast would not get obscured. However she – of all the saints in Lent – is especially Lenten. It makes sense that she should have a Sunday. 1 April being Saturday this year, this whole weekend is hers. There is nothing twee or Victorian about her. She is not a visionary or mystic. She is a sinner who returned to her God. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Her Life is read in Church on Wednesday or Thursday of this week as part of Matins. (Wednesday night is normal, but I’ve been in places where it’s read on Thursday night – may just be a scheduling issue…) This year one thing stands out.

As I mentioned, she is a sinner who repents, nothing more. But she is a very prolific sinner. I’ve appended her words to the end of this post. She did not do things out of hatred of God or love of evil. She wasn’t paid to do evil. She was simply following her bliss: things that she enjoyed.

But the thing that stands out is at the beginning of the tale, the whole point. The Elder Zosimas has been a monk since childhood until he was 53. “After that, he began to be tormented with the thought that he was perfect in everything and needed no instruction from anyone, saying to himself mentally, “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism that I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?” Thus thought the elder, when suddenly an angel appeared to him and said: “Zosima, valiantly have you struggled, as far as this is within the power of man, valiantly have you gone through the ascetic course. But there is no man who has attained perfection. Before you lie unknown struggles greater than those you have already accomplished. That you may know how many other ways lead to salvation, leave your native land like the renowned patriarch Abraham and go to the monastery by the River Jordan.

The whole tale is predicated on this promise: to show him something greater than his own journey. To this end he meets St Mary of Egypt who has struggled alone for her 50 years in the desert of her own choice seeking God. There’s not further comment on the Angel’s promise in the text, but the implication is clear: the monk thinks he’s done it all… but this one sinner who repented is greater, living in the angelic realm even while on earth.

Beyond that, St Mary seems to have had communion only twice as an adult and never even once attended the liturgy. This is paralleled by the odd practice of the monastery to which the Elder attaches himself: at the beginning of Lent the entire community leaves the monastery, each going his own way. They only return on Pascha. This is a story about someone inside the church being sent beyond the church’s walls to meet a saint.

Can we imagine that God’s power stops at the doors of the Church? No. Can we imagine our faith has no effect in the world? No. How great is God’s mercy? Infinite. How loudly can God call us even through our sins!

Holy Mother Mary of Egypt, pray to God for us!

I am ashamed to recall how there I at first ruined my maidenhood and then unrestrainedly and insatiably gave myself up to sensuality It is more becoming to speak of this briefly, so that you may just know my passion and my lechery. for about seventeen years, forgive me, I lived like that. I was like a fire of public debauch. And it was not for the sake of gain — here I speak the pure truth. Often when they wished to pay me, I refused the money. I acted in this way so as to make as many men as possible to try to obtain me, doing free of charge what gave me pleasure. do not think that I was rich and that was the reason why I did not take money. I lived by begging, often by spinning flax, but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth. This was life to me. Every kind of abuse of nature I regarded as life. That is how I lived. Then one summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, Where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied,They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, Will they take me with them if I wish to go?’No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ And I said to him, `To tell you truth, I have no money, neither have I food. But I shall go with them and shall go aboard. And they shall feed me, whether they want to or not. I have a body — they shall take it instead of pay for the journey.’ I was suddenly filled with a desire to go, Abba, to have more lovers who could satisfy my passion. I told you, Abba Zosima, not to force me to tell you of my disgrace. God is my witness, I am afraid of defiling you and the very air with my words.”

Zosima, weeping, replied to her: “Speak on for God’s sake, mother, speak and do not break the thread of such an edifying tale.”

And, resuming her story, she went on: “That youth, on hearing my shameless words, laughed and went off. While I, throwing away my spinning wheel, ran off towards the sea in the direction which everyone seemed to be taking. and, seeing some young men standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, full of vigour and alert in their movements, I decided that they would do for my purpose (it seemed that some of them were waiting for more travellers whilst others had gone ashore). Shamelessly, as usual, I mixed with the crowd, saying, `Take me with you to the place you are going to; you will not find me superfluous.’ I also added a few more words calling forth general laughter. Seeing my readiness to be shameless, they readily took me aboard the boat. Those who were expected came also, and we set sail at once. How shall I relate to you what happened after this? Whose tongue can tell, whose ears can take in all that took place on the boat during that voyage! And to all this I frequently forced those miserable youths even against their own will. There is no mentionable or unmentionable depravity of which I was not their teacher. I am amazed, Abba, how the sea stood our licentiousness, how the earth did not open its jaws, and how it was that hell did not swallow me alive, when I had entangled in my net so many souls. But I think God was seeking my repentance. For He does not desire the death of a sinner but magnanimously awaits his return to Him.

Of Incidents and Accidents.

The Readings for the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas
The Second Sunday of the Great Fast

AS THE Observance of the Great Fast evolved in the Eastern Church, each Sunday was assigned a special devotion: the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sundays of St Gregory, of St John, of St Mary, and the Sunday of the Holy Cross. Of all of them, it’s this Sunday of St Gregory Palamas that can seem the most out of place. Or, at least it seems to me. As the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese puts it, “The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas is November 14, however, he is commemorated on this Sunday as the condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy.” So, here we are as Byzantine Catholics celebrating the “second triumph of Orthodoxy”. In what way?

Although Gregory’s opponents are usually seen as “Scholastics” on a western model – and that is spun to be an anti-Catholic feast – the history is a bit more clear. Gregory taught “that ascesis and prayer are the outcome of the whole mystery of Redemption, and are the way for each person to make the grace given at Baptism blossom within himself.” That “God is love and full person”, that God allows us to participate as beings in His Being without admitting a break or division in “the unity of the divine Nature.” The fire of God is the fire of love which ignites the Christian soul and draws us all towards God.

Here, on the Second Sunday of Lent, we celebrate not a theological innovator but someone whose brilliant mind compiled the teachings of the Fathers of the preceding 14 centuries and summed it all up. St Gregory is often depicted by partisans as someone who stands against “Scholasticism” but he is as great a compiler as St Thomas Aquinas. His teaching is just a distillation of all that had gone before in the Eastern Church.

The light of Christ’s Transfiguration on Tabor shines in the soul of the Baptised and, through participation in the Holy Faith, that same light can shine out of our sous into the world around us. Deification. Theosis. This is what salvation means. This is the Glory of God, St Irenaeus teaches, “a living man” (and as was echoed in the Talmud – “The adornment [or glory] of God is man” – Derekh Eretz Zuta 10.7.) As we live in the world today, we are called to see the unity of our soul in Christ not so that each of us can – as individuals – be got into heaven, but rather so that we as the Body of Christ can bring healing to the world around us. Paul asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb 2:3)

Of Icons & Hosts

The Readings for the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy
The First Sunday of the Great Fast

HEARING OF A BYZANTINE CATHOLIC podcast called What God is Not, I decided to give a listen to a ByzCath Nun, Mother Natalia, and Fr Michael O’Loughlin, a priest of the Eparchy of Phoenix. I was instantly drawn in, not only because of the excellent material and conversation, but also because Mother Natalia sounds exactly like someone I know – and in fact looks like her! I had to use my Google-Fu to make sure I wasn’t hearing a St D parishioner. Someplace in the first episode to which I listened, and sadly I do not remember which one it was, Mother made a comment to the effect that the East had to deal most with heresies around iconoclasm while the West had to deal with denial of the Eucharist. This, she suggested, was why Eucharistic Adoration is a thing in the West, but not in the East; and why icons, and venerating them, take such a huge role in the East. Marian apparitions are a thing in the West, but “revelations of Marion icons” are a thing in the East.

The listener’s mind was sufficiently blown. This is, certainly, an historic reality, but it’s a huge theological statement as well. Imagine the idea that God can work, locally, delivering what might be needed there.

I started teaching a class called ByzCath 101 at Our Lady of Fatima. It seemed like a good way to put my experience in the Orthodox Church to use or, rather, to bring that with me into the Catholic Church. Yet I’ve had to rethink a lot of things around how we parse out (T)radition vrs (t)radition. Big-T Tradition and Little-T Tradition are a huge argument on the Orthodox Internets. One can easily get burned for anything from letting women read prayers before Liturgy to using “you” for God. Did your pastor leave the Holy Doors open at Liturgy? You’re in danger of Modernist Ecumenism. Did your Bishop’s spiritual father commune with the Catholics or Communists in Soviet Russia? You’re outside of the Church now. It’s a mess! After 20 years or so, what seemed to me to be (T)radition was really just (t)radition all along. What was hyper important in this place wasn’t so important in that place. Yet, everyone seemed to be struggling towards God. So (T) must stand for things that are dealing with our salvation. (t) must be everything else. There’s a lot of (t) masquerading as (T) though.

Then, becoming Catholic and reading the Catechism, one begins to see that even the things that seemed very important at the end of my Orthodox Journey are only (t) as well. In fact, how to say mass or the Liturgy, how to pray, how to do anything, what confession means, how the sacraments work… even the Filioque. It’s all (t)radition. Yes, it’s hella important in your local Church, but in the end only what pertains to your salvation is (T). Everything else is (t). You must believe certain things, yeas – but those are the T. We cannot even legitimately say that certain things are required in a sacramental marriage or a sacramental confession unless we qualify them by saying “required in this particular church” with the subtext always being “but not in that one…”

Let me tell you how liberating it is to be a member of the Catholic Church!

The Parable of Rabbits & Pigs

The Readings for the Sunday of the Last Judgement

HERE IS A PRECES of our parable: Jesus says at the Last Judgement God will divide us as a farmer does the sheep from the goats. The sheep will find out that they have often fed, clothed, and cared for Jesus. And they will say in all humility, No… we did not. And the goats will be told that they have never fed, clothed, or cared for Jesus. And they will say in self-justification, But we never had that chance: we would certainly have done so if you had shown up.

And then both groups will be told the punchline: when you did – or did not do – these things for the poor, the hungry, the homeless then you did – or did not do – these things for Jesus.

Then the sheep get into heaven and the goats go someplace where heaven is not, and the story ends.

Readers might have heard a sermon that goes something like this: Jesus never asks either the sheep or the goats if they’ve kept any religious rules. Did they’ve gone to mass, did they say their prayers? Jesus only asks if they have cared for the poor. Care for the poor matters, but Jesus doesn’t care about religious rules. A more subtle form of this sermon might conclude that people who care for the poor will get into heaven long before anyone else. Then it swerves off into “social justice” and trying to “build the city of God” here on this planet to “get ready” for the second coming.

However, this parable is not about ditching religious duty in favor of a crypto-Marxist reading of scripture.

In terms of animals following religious rules, a better example might be pigs. To be kosher an animal must have split hooves and chew its cud. Pigs have hooves that are split, but they do not chew the cud. You can’t see that, so if you look at a pig briefly you might think it’s Kosher on the outside… but it’s not. Horses chew the cud, as do rabbits. They have the right insides, but they have the wrong kind of external features. Rabbits not only chew the cud, but they are also cuddly. The inside counts as much as the outside. But this parable is NOT about following rules. Sheep and goats are both Kosher. They are both sacrificial animals. They both – unlike pigs, rabbits, or horses – follow all the rules: on the inside and on the outside.

You miss the point if you don’t catch this. Jesus is not talking about Marxist bunnies or Capitalist pigs here. This scene from the Last Judgment takes place after the pigs, rabbits, and horses have all been sent away already

Both sheep and goats are goodly, clean things. Both are acceptable symbols for us, the religious folks. Follow all the rules. Do everything right. The sheep, however, follow through on the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
The goats fail to do so. The sheep realize that, beyond the law, there is love.

It is almost like Jesus saying to all the Good Sheep and the Good Goats…(Realized here that my “Jesus Voice” sounds like Bishop Barron….)  “Oh, one last thing… you went to mass every day, you prayed every day, you never broke a commandment. Good. Good. All important, all needed….”

But, um…

Did you get the point?

You can’t use this parable to say “there are no rules except care for the poor.” Love God AND love your neighbor. Do right by both. No one is saved by doing anything: but love and faith require doing to be real. There is something beyond the rules: your whole life must be changed into Christ.

There are no generous pigs here. There are, however, people who follow all the rules and do nothing important. (Rabbits are cute, though.)

To Do Bible

LEARNING OF the death of my friend, Minka, via Facebook sent me on a used book quest to find her out-of-print works. Finally a copy of Praying from the Free Throw Line – For Now was procured from Thriftbooks. Reading it has not only triggered old memories (for I can hear her voice as I read it) but so many other realizations as well. We learn from our teachers and she was my teacher in so many ways. Even things she did not teach me, I see clearly, seem to have grown from seeds we planted together. All that follows is such. What is my process for working with Bible?

When readings the meditations in Praying From the Free Throw Line it’s easy to recognize the genesis of my own voice. But it’s also easy to recognize the fountainhead of my own theological errors. Minka’s knowledge of Biblical Languages (which she taught at two seminaries) does not mean that her final conclusions are safeguarded from error. I was only too happy at one time to hear her conclusions sine they justified my own actions. They were wrong, sinful. The process needs correction, not rejection.

The Christian texts of the Bible, of course, flow from the Jewish texts. This is not only a prophetic or historical claim but also a stylistic one. In its current form, the Jewish scripture is presented as three components: Torah, Prophets, and Writings. In Hebrew, תורה Torah, נביאים Nevi’im, and כתובים Khetuvim. These are abbreviated as תנ”ך Tanach. The Torah is the first five books. This is usually translated law, but law is only a part of the text (and the texts are only part of the law). The word also means instruction. Perhaps it’s best to read it as mainly meaning “instruction”? I don’t know. The guys at Bible Project take that to mean the entire text of the Bible is Meditation Literature – something to chew on, over and over. The Prophets include a few books that many Christians might not consider “prophetic” such as Judges, Samuel and the Kings. However, the Writings include some considered prophetic by Christians (Psalms, Song of Songs and Daniel) as well as some considered “only” history like the Chronicles. The New Testament is also parsed out this way: The Prophet scroll is the Apocalypse. The Writings are Acts and the Epistles. The Torah is the Gospels. This is all meditation literature. Some of it might be history or myth (as we understand those words today), but all of it is God-breathed meditation literature.

So, when we hear Jesus use the imperative and command his Father to “forgive” from the Cross, there’s as much there to meditate on as when Eve uses the Sacred Tetragrammaton to describe God, even though that name has not yet been revealed to Moses. How is that important? Well, the Rabbis who complied the scriptures in Babylon put the Name of God on the lips of our First Mother, so why? Yeshua probably spoke in Aramaic from the Cross. Why did the Greek Authors take the imperative?

For a Christian, a better way to ask is, “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors to do this?”

And we might spend a whole week chewing on it in prayer.

And there begins my method for doing Bible or, in Hebrew, לעשות תנ׳ך l-asot tanach to do tanach: you read in the context of the whole thing – a unified story that leads to Jesus – and you meditate. If something catches your eye, you follow it. Where does it go? This is why the four Gospels are the Torah Scroll in the New Covenant: Jesus is the living word of God, the embodiment not of the Law but the very Giver of the Law himself, not “in human form” but incarnate as a human. Under the Law he himself gave. When he pulls wine out of the Mikveh jars or enters the debate between Hillel and Shammai, when he asks about the Divine Image on the Roman Coin or says “I AM” with enough force to scare people, we need to ask not only “What’s going on here?” but also, “What is the Divine Author saying to us here?” and also, “What is the human writer trying to tell us here?” and also, “How can we communicate this to others?” Each question is equally important for different reasons. When Paul works out his Daddy issues with Timothy, that’s one thing. When a preacher in the pulpit at Mass points out that’s what Paul is doing, that’s another thing. When a listener, working on the same things as Paul, hears the sermon and is moved to tears, that’s a third thing. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest. And Proclaim. All of these are needed but at different places. This is how to do Bible.

Then it has to be read in the Church. Yes, there are other commentators that do not believe it leads to Jesus. But they are on another track now and God will guide them back as he needs to. A Christian must read the Bible in the Church. So we reference the Fathers and Church teaching not as a supplemental authority but as the final one. It’s possible for some random theologian (such as my teacher that started this post) to take her knowledge way out of the bounds of the Church, but if we draw back to the Fathers and the Magisterium, we can make sure that while we avoid the mistake of being 100% correct and entirely wrong.

Types and Shadows

The Readings for the 2nd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”

Hebrews 8:5

HEBREWS SPEAKS ABOUT THE Heavenly temple and about how what was then in Jerusalem was only a faint shadow – not only of what was before under Solomon, but also what was really present to Moses on the Mountain: God’s heavenly throne room. Yet was was present in Jerusalem at that time did not have the Ark of the Covenant or the Seat of Mercy, which had been carried away during the Babylonian siege and sack of Jerusalem – either by the Babylonians or else by the Prophet Jeremiah – and has yet to be found again. So the Temple present at the time of Jesus didn’t have all the working parts.

But Hebrews says that any earthly Temple is only a shadow of the real one in Heaven at this point because now Messiah has come. Types and shadows have their ending as Aquinas wrote. Because the newer rite is here. Yet one does not replace the other. One manifests the other fulfills the Truth.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The unity of the Old and New Testaments

128 The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.

129 Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen. Such typological reading discloses the inexhaustible content of the Old Testament; but it must not make us forget that the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation reaffirmed by our Lord himself. Besides, the New Testament has to be read in the light of the Old. Early Christian catechesis made constant use of the Old Testament. As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

130 Typology indicates the dynamic movement toward the fulfillment of the divine plan when “God [will] be everything to everyone.” Nor do the calling of the patriarchs and the exodus from Egypt, for example, lose their own value in God’s plan, from the mere fact that they were intermediate stages.

Or, as The Bible Project puts it succinctly: “We believe the Bible is a unified book that leads to Jesus.”

Today is the Feast of the Theophany in those Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches that use the Julian Calendar. Last night at the 2.5 hour Vigil Service we read about 20 Bible passages, served the Liturgy of St Basil, and then blessed water. This water, Theophany or “Jordan Water”, we believe avails much for healing, remission of sins, blessings, and the repelling of both spiritual and physical foes. It is and interesting tradition because while, in aome churches it’s blessed in a basin, the blessing can also be done at the ocen or in a river. My former bishop does this blessing in the winter snows, on the Continental Divide. These blessings, absolutions, healings, and exorcisms are not only for believers but for all God’s world. In his Son God claims us all for himself.

Types and shadows have their ending. God is Manifest. Baptized in the Jordan he begins to set all things aright. We can enter the water with him and rise as Sons and Daughters of God

Reading the Signs of Ordinary Times

The cover of The Silver Chair from the boxed set I received in High School (c. 1980)
The Readings for the 1st Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit. As he passed by, he saw Levi, son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

Hebrews 4:12, Mark 2:14

I‘VE BEEN REREADING THE Chronicles of Narnia in the canonical order. Actually, I’m using a very enjoyable audio series with Michael York, Lynn Redgrave, and Derick Jacobi, among others. It’s easily the best set of recordings out there, but a bit pricy unless you find it on sale. Anyway… I’m on Book Four, The Silver Chair, just now. It’s my least favorite one. I can only handle it for a few (audible) pages at a time. It gets tedious after that.

Don’t get me wrong: the story is good enough. Two children from our world rescue a prince of Narnia from an enchantment and restore him to his throne. Magic and whatall, of course, and talking animals. There are surprises and twists. But everything is so dark and, well, boring. Colorless. Especially when compared to all of the other books, this one is drab.

I suddenly think that’s the point.

There is a discussion in another post about how Lewis plays with Time and what I think that might mean. These are stories for children, yes, but they are not children’s stories. They are very adult stories told for children: there are things you can see only as you meditate on them. The three middle books, Voyage of the Dawntreader, The Silver Chair, and A Horse and His Boy, are conversion stories. The first and the third are painful stories about children going through rather adult conversions: they have to leave behind all they know to understand Narnia. The middle one, which concerns us in this post, is about the interior conversion that a “cradle” must undergo. The “cradle Narnian” is Prince Caspian XI. Eustace is a convert – and indeed Jill as well – but since they are coming to rescue the Prince it’s his story they are a part of. (No one is in a story alone, of course, he is also part of their stories.) The Prince, however, has gone astray in his grief for his dead Mother. He’s been led away by a foreign power, the Green Witch, and needs to come home.

Aslan sends two converted missionaries, Jill and Eustace, to rescue the lost Cradle Narnian. Jesus, calling to Matthew the Tax Collector, the Cradle Jew, who sold himself to the Romans.

Like any Narnian – or Cradle Catholic or Cradle Orthodox – Caspian knows he’s doing things right. The Green Witch has convinced him he’s fine. He’s really a Narnian, everything will be ok. Just trust her and she will get things back in line. And, like any Cultural Orthodox, Cultural Catholic, or even Cultural Jew, or Cultural Whatever, they miss the point of their religion, only getting the barest hints of the echoes from Childhood Memories. Caspian is Narnian in Name Only. He needs rescuing from the vestiges of Narnia in his own life enabling the Witch to continue to hold him back from his true life.

By vestiges I mean those shreds of cultural religion that are on unconnected to any living relationship: they form a sort of innoculation. Billy Graham refered to people who were “innoculated against” any real relationship with Christ by their cultural Christianity. Prince Caspian is in the same boat. The Green Witch has convinced him to stay put and she will make him a True King. Really she is only enslaving him to her more and more each day.

In order to guide these converted Missionaries to penetrate “even between soul and spirit” in the Prince’s life, Aslan gives four Signs. Each one they seemingly mess up – even to their own eyes – and yet each one works out in the course of their lives. In the end, it’s not by following the Signs that they save the Prince, but rather by saving the Prince, they discover they have followed the Signs. It is their growing relationship with Aslan that has drawn them forward.

Most of life plays out that way: one thing in front of another. Do them one after another. And you’ll discover you’re working out your salvation. We make much of the signs, or even the Signs of the Times but they’re not intended as prophetic way-showers, but rather as markers on the way. Prophecy is not about “What comes next?” in the timeline, but rather, “you are here”. The vestiges of religion and cultural laws fall away and you are left with a living relationship to the Word of God, the one and only word that God has spoken through all time and eternity, in text and in life: Jesus.

Before enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood. Carry water.

In the end, you will discover that Jesus has called you out of yourself, and out of your enslavement to the world. Follow him.

More Ordinary Mysteries

Icon of “He Who Slumbers Not” slumbering.
The Readings for the 1st Wednesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.

Hebrews 2:18

THE ANONYMOUS AUTHOR of Hebrews, just for a shorthand, let’s give him a name… say… St Paul? Anyway, St Paul begins, “Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them” and goes on to talk about suffering. Some translations and exegetical traditions (especially those more heavily influenced by the Protestant Reformers) limit the understanding of “suffering”. For an extreme example, the Complete Jewish Bible renders Hebrews 2:18 as “For since he himself suffered death when he was put to the test, he is able to help those who are being tested now.” There the “suffering” is explicitly limited to death, however – given the common understanding of the English word “suffering” – usually this idea is that suffering = his Passion (ie from Thursday night or Friday of Holy Week). That’s not the correct way to view this.

The Greek word used for “suffer” here is πάσχω pascho. The broad meaning is “things that happen to me” either good or bad. It is possible to limit it to bad things only, but with the addition of the word rendered as “tempted” (Gr: πειράζω pirazo) the meaning is clearly not limited to the latter half of Holy Week. The things that “happened” to Jesus started with cellular mitosis, implanting, blood, water, and a birth canal. Then probably a spanking.

Ordinary Time.

God has done all the ordinary things. All the things that we do – except sin – God has done them in his flesh, including coughing up phlegm, stubbing toes, getting itchy eyes, sneezing, sweating, and getting sunburned. God has worked hard and had to sleep – and had trouble sleeping. God in the Flesh has done it all.

Your life can now be a daily enactment of the life of God because God’s life was ordinary like yours. And so he knows, in his flesh and bones, what it means to feel pain, to be tired, to be hungry, to be thirsty. God knows, in his heart of hearts, how weak we are, how prone we are to sin – even though he, himself, never sinned.

Look to him and be radiant. Your face will never be ashamed. The things that happen to you happened also to God.

And he can help you.

So, that was Christmas

Jerusalem Cross: Representing the Believers around Christ
The Readings for the 1st Tuesday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself.

Mark 1:22

HEY! PRESTO! It’s no longer Christmas, but Ordinary Time: tempus per annum. Epiphany had an Octave back in the Old Days, and the Sunday within the Octave was the Baptism. And then there were a certain number of Sundays after Epiphany, and then it was time for Pre-Lent (which begins this year on 5 February). Titles aside, the readings assigned for the first few weeks of Ordinary Time drift from Glorious to Pre-Lenten. This happens in the Autumn as well when the Apocalypse starts to take over the reading themes in October, well before Christ the King. Today, through late Winter and early Spring, we’ll be meditating on Death and Penance soon enough. Today’s readings are Manifesting Glory.

Your calendar says Ordinary Time but your readings say Epiphany Octave.

Jesus is revealed in today’s Gospel as one speaking “with his own authority” and not like the other teachers, whom the people have heard, who appeal to precedent and say nothing new. This authority is surprising to the people, as the Gospel states. It never says good or bad surprise, but I’m sure it goes both ways. Some were surprised good. Some were surprised bad.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner makes this same point in A Rabbi Talks with Jesus: when Jesus talks he clearly puts his own words (sometimes) on par with the Torah but most often over the Torah and, usually, over others who are interpreting the Torah. (Although he sometimes takes sides in existing rabbinical arguments, sometimes with Hillel, sometimes with Shammai.) Jesus speaks on his own Authority. This is fitting, of course, if one is claiming to be God, the Son of God. When someone says, “The teachings of Jesus are nice…” they usually fail to grant (or realize) all that implies. Many who read the New Testament fail to see that the teaching method/refrain of “you have heard it said… but I say to you…” is this divine claim in action. Neusner sees it and is surprised bad. In fact, he’s surprised into full-on rejection just as the other leaders were in Jesus’ day.

But Jesus is claiming authority – just by his very presence. His relationship with God the Father is such that it’s impossible to not claim this authority. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

In his homily yesterday, Fr Emmerich Vogt, OP, made the point that those of us who are baptized into Christ share this same authority, this same relationship. We are, as Pope Benedict said, “Sons in the Son”. Or rather we can be, by grace, participating in the divinization which Christ offers us. The writer of Hebrews has it:

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers” saying: I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.

The whole point of ordinary time is that there is no longer any such thing. We are riding salvation history now: all time is liturgical time, the unfolding of the Kingdom. “He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin.” All life is now living into Salvation, the unfolding of the Kingdom in our own lived experience. God has made everything not-ordinary.

This is the path on which the sons in the son now walk: to glory. It would be a lie to pretend otherwise.