Yes: Time. Again.


EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE my WordPress stats will indicate a very old post (today, from 2015) and I’ll discover that I’m not thinking anything new to me – but rather that I’ve been chewing on the same cud for most of the last 25 years. The whole recent string starting with mists and ending in the most recent post about personhood seems to have been on my mind continually since 2002, at least. Ongoing discussion of how self-identification relates to personhood is also of an equally-long standing. I’m finding, now (literally, this morning) that both of those themes relate to something called personalism. I’m not quite sure what that means, but I know it was Pope St John Paul’s school of philosophy. So I need to keep digging there. Since that school speaks of our relationship to, with, and in God it may also have something to do with my third theme: the incarnation, time, the eucharist, and salvation. It’s here we’ll stay just now.

Pope Benedict XVI said, “Every time the Mass is celebrated, every time Christ makes himself sacramentally present in his Church, the work of our salvation is accomplished.” (13 Sep 2008 Source, ret’vd 12 Apr 23). This phrase is currently in a prayer used on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, quoting from both Lumen Gentium and Sacrosanctum Concilium and previously it was the Secret prayer for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost. How is it possible that each time the Mass is offered our salvation is carried out? The Latin is “opus nostrae redeptionis exercetur” where “exercetur” is variously rendered as “wrought” or “carried out” or even “exercised”.

Meditating and chewing on this, it seems that in some way, though the grace of mediation, the Church is granted to not “time travel to the cross” at Mass, but rather the reverse: Each Mass is the first mass. Each Mass is not just the result of our Lord’s work on the Cross. It is our Lord’s work on the Cross.

In the incarnation the Second Hypostasis of the Trinity, the Divine Son, took upon himself a human nature, uniting it fully to his pre-eternal divine nature. In what way, then, does the God-Man experience time? Is it possible to say that in the Divine-Human Hypostasis there is also a union of Kairos and Chronos? Is there a way in which the Son moves through time while still being in eternity? The prayers of Pascha from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom seem to say this, “In the tomb with the body, in hell with the soul as God, in paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit, You fill all things, O boundless Christ.” So is there a Chronostasis, if you will, making all things the God-Man has done eternally present? The eternal actions of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the Glorious Second Coming are all commemorated in the Divine Liturgy, even though the latter – for us – has not yet happened. However, for God, it is also eternally present.

Thoughts in development.

Update after 3 hours: a friend reminded me that St Ephraim the Syrian thought it possible that the entire Garden of Eden story occurred outside of time and that our parents only began to experience Kronos after the Fall. I’ve never been a fan of that theological pattern because it seems to make the whole thing too mythological. However if Kronos and Kairos overlap and diverge exactly at the Fall the implications of this post are even stronger. It would be sensible, then, that someone experiencing both Kairos and Kronos in his person would be required to make Atonement, uniting the times again.

To Be or Not to Be

METROPOLITAN JOHN ZIZIOULAS (Memory Eternal!) has this great line in Being as Communion, “to be and to be in communion are the same thing”. It’s not an exact quote. I pulled it out and wrapped it into my final presentation to be graduated from CIIS in 2002. The argument continues – as I understood it – that since it is in Christ, and more specifically in His Church, that we find the fullest expression of communion, it is there, in the Church, that a Human Being can come into his fullest beingness. I wasn’t too far off, actually, despite being a new convert to Orthodoxy at that time (I entered the Church only a couple of months earlier). Reading a blurb for a book about his theology, I find:

Zizioulas has argued that the Church Fathers represent a profound account of freedom and community that represents a radical challenge to modern accounts of the person. Zizioulas uses the work of the Fathers to make an important distinction between the person, who is defined by a community, and the individual who defines himself in isolation from others, and who sees community as a threat to his freedom. Zizioulas argues that God is the origin of freedom and community, and that the Christian Church is the place in which the person and freedom come into being.

The Theology of John Zizioulas: Personhood and the Church Gracious! $41 for the Kindle edition?!?!?! Someone buy me books? NEway…

I’ve been on this for a while, especially since COVID. This all came back into my brain recently over some really amazing margaritas with a friend who said that this was the exact reason he rejected Zizioulas. And then, one day later, listening to the audio version of The Orthodox Way, I heard Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Memory Eternal!) say the same thing in another way:

First, a “person” is not the same as an “individual”. Isolated, self-dependent, none of us is an authentic person but merely an individual, a bare unit as recorded in a census. Egocentricity is the death of true personhood. [p. 28]
He [the Holy Spirit] transforms individuals into persons. [p. 95]
Ignorance and sin are characteristic of isolated individuals. Only in the unity of the Church do we find the defects overcome. Man finds his true self in the Church alone: not in the helplessness of spiritual isolation but in the strength of his communion with his brothers and with his Saviour. [p. 108]

This is stated by King David in the Psalms (Ps 49:20): “a man with honor without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” To sin is to forego understanding, to become like a beast – to step away from our humanity into which God always calls us deeper, to become more of what we are, not less.

Then finally yesterday, on a phone call with one of my brother Knights, I commented that so many Christians are terrified of preaching the Gospel. What caused the Church to go from 12 guys to thousands in Jerusalem in only a few months? They spread city to city – and not always by the “official routes” of the Apostles. What was happening that carried this message even faster than feet?

We take it for granted now, but Christianity carried personhood as we understand it, out from the Jewish teachings where it begins in Genesis 1 with the image and likeness of God to the rest of the world. It was possible to enter into full, personal, salvific communion with the God who made everything and yet wanted you – fully, personally, you – to be his Son or Daughter by adoption and grace. This came to you no matter who you were – Jew, Greek, Scythian, Barbarian, Slave, Free, Man or Woman. You mattered: not just data as a census number or a member of a social hierarchy invented to keep the same hierarchy in place. You were a real, loved, person who could enter into loving relationships with other real persons on an equal footing. And those relationships would last forever – because the one relationship that made them possible between you and God would last forever as well.

This Gospel swept the world and changed the world. We come into the modern world thinking of persons exactly as the Church has taught, “endowed by their creator”. Ironically, the idea that “you are important in God” has been turned into “I am God” and, lo: we’re all data points again. We are turned into isolated individuals who live in perpetual fear that our personal self-definition will be shattered by someone using the wrong pronouns for us. Metropolitan Kallistos is right to call this “self-dependent”. We might add to that, “self-debted”. When I am subtracted, I will be no more. If I am not around to make me, I won’t be made.

A beast that perishes.

We are afraid of a Gospel that demands a full change of thinking, a full rejection of the disorder that the world calls “normal”. There is no way, apart from God, to know who you are. Rejection of even the possibility of that truth makes for meaninglessness and lived nihilism.

Eternal life is possible. Lived in unchanging truth; turning away from the foolish idea that you define yourself, that you are making yourself. Let God make you. Let others love you as he is making you – not because of what you have or what you can do or what you can imagine but because you are the very icon of God. Become the You God made you to be – in the body God gave you used according not to your feelings but to the owner’s manual… Enter into communion with God and others who seek him. “Become who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire” (St Catherine) and “the Glory of God is a living human being” (St Ignatius).

Come in. Be a real person.

Updated here 4/17/2023

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.

Subtleties and Acquisitions


WHEN I FIRST Tested with Citizens Cafe Tel Aviv, they asked for my story with Hebrew and I noted that in college I had failed other languages, but passed all three semesters with an A/B average in Hebrew. The interviewer laughed and said it was usually the other way around. That said, I’m not exactly even sorta-fluent. I have some mad skills sometimes. Then I need help with getting the words out. Yet I can hear individual words now, even in native speakers on TV and Radio. It used to be that I was hearing one or two words in the middle of a sound salad. Now, even though I don’t know the words, I can identify that they are words, I can hear the breaks in there. Sometimes I can understand enough words that they convey a sense of what’s being said even if I cannot formulate a full reply.

This is probably the same for all languages but learning Hebrew is teaching me a lot about English. At NYU I learned about gerunds in English (“a form that is derived from a verb but that functions as a noun, in English ending in -ing, e.g., asking in do you mind my asking you?”) because I learned about them in Hebrew. I am only now (in the last couple of months) learning how to conjugate in the future tense, but it’s shocking how rarely we use it in normal conversation: even in English we use a lot of combinations of past and present to convey all sorts and conditions of time. We do not often speak in the future tense. Certainly there are times when we need it, but a lot of the time saying things like “I want to get up at 6 AM” is not in the future tense: it’s the present tense of want. I am going to the store later is not future. It’s about am in the present. I’m going to the store after church. Also present tense.

Another thing that keeps happening is realizing how we reuse words in English: why does “more coffee” mean “another cup of coffee” and also “fill it more-full” and also “I think I need a pound and a half more coffee this month”?

The flipside of this is how often Hebrew words (especially, but not only prepositions) get repurposed. This leads to subtleties in the language that are simply not present in English and cannot be made clear in translation. This is something that happens in other languages: going from one language to another you can usually find a 1:1 correspondence in meaning, but what do you do when a word has 5 or 10 subtly different meanings? You generally have to pick one meaning and go with it. If it were possible in English to use one word for confession (of sins) and thanksgiving (offering) would we not use that one word to describe Eucharist and Confession? It is possible to use one word for those two concepts in Hebrew! But we miss it by way of translation. We see this in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, called the Septuagint. There are meanings in the Hebrew that are not present in the Greek. And vice versa. I love this text from the Talmud: It once happened that five elders wrote the Torah for King Ptolemy in Greek, and that day was as ominous for Israel as the day on which the golden calf was made, since the Torah could not be accurately translated. It’s literally the mirror image of the Greek Orthodox claim that the Septuagint is inspired and that the Masoretic text has been “edited” to change the meanings. Unpack that all you want. (See more commentary here.) St Jerome, translating into Latin, used both the Greek and the Hebrew, but lost a bit of both coming into Latin.

By way of example for multiple, and overlapping, meanings:

To become religious – to journey from being a secular Jew to being a religious one – is described in modern Hebrew as
– הוא חזר בתשובה
hoo khazar b’tshuvah.
Literally translated that is “he returned in repentance” but tshuvah is also an answer to a question. Thus “He returned with an answer” is a valid understanding of the sentence. It gives rise, then, to this countersign. If someone goes from being religious to being secular you can say,
– הוא חזר בשאלה
hoo khazar b’sheola,
literally “he returned in a question”. When my tutor explained this to me we had an interesting discussion because becoming Christian does not leave you with “all the answers”. In fact, resting in the mystery in faith, in the cloud of unknowing, is often held as a greater virtue and so is the simple faith of a child. Mary had no idea what she was saying yes to, but she said it anyway. The same is true of anyone in RCIA (or OCIA) now. “I don’t understand why xyz is a sin… but I will accept it” is the same complaint. To take the Church’s teaching at face value is virtuous. Returning in a question is a leap of faith, but this concept is missing in English – fully present in the Hebrew, even if it is missed: returning with a question is exactly repenting: he returned. At least he returned. There’s hope.

How do you convey all these meanings in any language other than Hebrew? I don’t know.

Anyway, I continue to have more fun in Hebrew than I expected.

Misty Morning Sunrise


THE BOOK OF Ecclesiastes, named Kohelet or Qohelet in the Hebrew text (קֹהֶלֶת), is one of the Wisdom Books in the Hebrew Scriptures which can be read as meditation texts rather than literal “rules”. In fact, if you read the Wisdom Books without context, there are some serious contradictions between Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes in a literal sense. Proverbs seems to say, “If you are godly and wise, everything will go well for you.” Job would indicate that’s not always the case at all. The speaker in Ecclesiastes chimes in with an admission that he doesn’t know at all: sometimes the righteous prosper and sometimes not. Sometimes the impious prosper, sometimes not. He can’t make heads or tails of the whole thing. His only draw, from 1:2 to 12:8 is that “all is vanity”. How does your text translate that word? The differences go from futility to meaningless to even “all is pointless.”

But the word might imply that in more recent English, yet I don’t think that’s the intent in the Hebrew text. I’ve been chewing on this since the word was pointed out on the Bible Project podcast last week. They mentioned this, also, in their origional overview video on this book. Neither made this connection though…

The word rendered as vanity or futility is hevel הָ֫בֶל which means “mist” or “vapor”. This is also the name of Eve’s second son, usually translated as Abel in Genesis 4:2. But it’s the same word.

The question I’m chewing on is, Why did the Babylonian compositors of the Tanakh as we know it today leave us this word in this way? They are rounding out the Torah with the names of Eve’s Children at the same time as they are dropping Koheleth into the text. What were they thinking or expecting us to see? (I also wonder, btw, Why these same compositors put the Tetragrammaton in the mouth of Eve, long before the name was revealed to Moses. It’s there in the preceding verse, Genesis 4:1.)

I remembered this post from 2017. I was commenting on 1 John 2:17, “And the world is passing away, along with its desires. But whoever does God’s will remains forever.” We think of “passing away”. like “yes, the world will end”… The Greek word used for “passing” παράγω parago, is the same word used to describe Jesus passing by the tax collector’s station or the crowd blowing past blind Bartimaeus. This is the word that Paul would have used to describe a car passing him on the freeway into Thessaloniki.

The world, in other words, is Hevel. Everything on which we hang our hopes outside of God, is Hevel. This is why “hevel” or “mist” gets used to describe idols throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, using the plural form “the hevelim of the goyim” the passing winds of the gentiles. The vanity of wealth, the mere breath of a passing shadow that is man, every man is Abel, every man is killed by the spear over doing what is right anyway… and his family mourns him. But must move on.

Abel, forgotten. But not really. For he came up again this morning in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Office of Readings for the Solemnity of St Joseph. Hebrews 11:4 “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he, being dead, yet speaketh.” So, there is a way in which the righteous misty – being attested by God – is NOT just mist after all.

There is something to that at the end of Kohelet, right after he says that everything is nothing but a mist of mists.
hevel hahevelimha’col hevel הֲבֵ֧ל הֲבָלִ֛ים… הַכֹּ֥ל הָֽבֶל

Everything is mist except what points to God. For 12:13-14 wraps it up thus:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil.

As I noted in the post from 2017, the world is just whizzing by, is it not? Perhaps more now than ever before. And Christ on the Cross is the only still point in all of eternity.

All the things that we want today, that we didn’t even know existed yesterday, that we will have forgotten tomorrow like toys on Christmas that are forgotten by the new year, this world passes by. I’ve enjoyed, over the last three decades, watching fashion pass from the gay world into the straight world, be that shoe styles, popped collars, goatees, whatever. If it’s too gay this year, it will be all Joe the Plumber next year. But the gays will have moved on to a new thing. Tech is this way as well. What we didn’t even imagine as possible last month is all the rage now. And then tomorrow something new will come along.

The world just passes by. It is mist. It blows away when the winds change – but there is nothing but mists in that direction anyway as well.

And the cross is the center of stillness. The only solid thing in all of history is the incarnation of God. What God has done is always eternal and from conception on, History now has a solid core. There is something that makes the mist worthwhile, eternal.

We might render the verse from St John as saying, “And the world is hevel, along with all its hevelim. But whoever does God’s will remains forever.”

At funerals, the Byzantines do not sing, “rest in peace” but rather, “memory eternal.” We can be eternal too if we will cling to the only eternal real thing in all of eternity.

Judicial Reform


I’m not a huge fan of Americans telling other countries how to run their politics. (We tend to call that cultural colonialism if we don’t agree with the interference, liberation if we do agree.) Understanding those other places is a different thing from trying to fix them.

I’ve been trying to understand what’s going on with the protests around judicial reform in Israel without knowing enough history. This episode of this podcast seems to me a good intro if that sort of thing interests you: The Conflict that Contains all Conflicts

A Song of Degrees

For A and C… and Texas, I guess…


You are like a child holding me by the hand
Daddy Look! Daddy Look! Daddy Look!
As if you’re as amazed as I
at Birds
or tiny purple flowers on rosemary
Of the swirls of oil
Opalescent on puddles in sunlight
You’re like a docent
Showing me from one spectacle
to the next
and sharing all that is happening
Watch how this clock turns
or hear the sound of this bell
And sometimes
You’re an artist
Humbliy waiting for me
In your studio
As I turn and see things
Watching to see if I
Will notice the art
That you’ve done
Just for this visit
Just for this visitor

And you know
Child, Docent, or Artist
The only response I have
Is thank you
and tears

Lately it feels like you’re
And older friend
A mentor
Showing me all you have for me
All that you have discovered
All that you have learned

And when you’ve lifted me
So far up in steps
The rough places are not as rough
I need to say goodbye
In love or fear
You are still there
Showing me the beauty
Showing me the sunrise and sunset
And the healing
Is just as sweet
With thank you
And tears

But up in steps
Each time it is harder
And easier
To let go
Because everything
Is in you
And nothing here
Is forever
Until it is yours
And up in steps
You make that known
Until we can fall
before you
in tears
And love

The Difference


AS POSTED OVER ON My Hebrew language blog, I’ve been wondering about these two songs. My limited skill in that language did not prevent me from hearing the same words rolled around in two very different songs. Give a listen. Turning on the captions for the first one to see an English translation. I’m sorry there’s no subtitles available for the second, so you’ll need to take my word. The main thing is the first song is secular, the second not at all.

שהחסר תמיד היה, ותמיד ישאר חסר
What is always missing will always be missing
אתה לא תמצא את מה שאין
You will not find what is not there
והלב הזה שלך
And your heart
הוא אף פעם לא יהיה שלם
Will never be complete
אז תאהב את הבת שלי וסתום
So love my daughter and shut up

Amir Ve Ben

עדיף כבר להפסיד הכל כדי לזכות בך
It’s better to lose everyhing to win you
ולשלם את המחיר הכל בסוף שלך
And to pay every price in the end for you
ללכת עד הסוף כי רק בסוף אפגוש בך
To go to the end because only in the end will I meet you
ואז כל מה שחסר יושלם בך
And everything that is missing will be completed in you.

Shilo Ben Hod

Both songs use the same words in several places to discuss things that are missing. But the first says they will never be complete, these things will always be missing. The second song says that the singer will give up not only what is missing – but everything else as well – because “you” (that is, Jesus) is worth any cost. In the end, everything that is important will be found in Jesus. The singer, Shilo Ben Hod, continues this theme in many of his songs.

דווקא ההבדל

This morning these meditations took an interesting turn as my Hebrew tutor, Gil, asked my opinion: What is the difference between the secular life and the religious life? I can’t handle small talk at all – I don’t do it very well in English and, since it is the common parlance of language classes, I can stumble there as well. But ask me something like what’s the difference between these two lives… and I have opinions, goodness. Do I have opinions!

When I learned that the word “secular” in Hebrew comes from the word for “sand” I learned the real meaning of the Biblical Image of a house built on sand. I even used it in a sentence assigned for homework. Suddenly I was making puns in Hebrew. So.

I was encouraged by the fact that the teacher was ranting right along with me! We both agreed that having a place “where the buck stops” (I don’t know how to use that idiom in Hebrew) is precisely the difference. Why do you do that? Why do you do that? I ranted. “Because of Harry Potter! Because of this new song!” Gil ranted back. Having something to point at and say “That. That is my final answer.” That’s the point, the whole point. The difference.

This theme runs through the Bible from the very beginning: our First Parents taking the fruit was a desire to have “what I want when I want it, and as I want it” rather than waiting for God to give it. This is a common theme in many worship songs: the poverty of the individual and the full reliance on God in Christ. I think of My Tribute and Which Way the Wind Blows, but it is also a common theme in the writings of the saints as well. I’m reminded of a prayer by St Thomas Aquinas:

Although I am nothing of myself
Nevertheless all that I hope to be
And all that I am
Is in you

Aquinas at Prayer, Paul Murray, OP (Author’s translation)

While Gil and I are exploring what it means to answer that in two different religious contexts, we are certainly on common ground. I do not presume to have many resources for religious Jewish thought on this topic – even though we’re often going over the same material. (Today I learned what the Fast before Purim was about… and it’s not anything any Christian would imagine, at least directly.)

But there, that’s the difference. These songs are exactly about the difference. What’s missing is not always missing.

Unless you want it to be.

A Tale of Two Kisses


SOLOMON WRITES FOR the Bride these words, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” Certainly, that is the desire of our hearts, that the Lord should kiss us so. Yet, as in a dream where everything is one’s own mind speaking, so in scripture, everything is God’s own word. And how our Lord cries out in love, “Let him, (that is, you, Son of Adam) let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” Do not be scandalized: we speak of Christ thirsting for us, and of how we can pain his heart. God speaks of being spurned by his beloved. Although he has no need in his perfection for any of this, he desires deeply the union for which he made us in his love. While any such action is possible only by grace, how do we kiss our heavenly beloved? Indeed we do it in prayer, but how deeply, how fervently?

In Star Trek: the Next Generation, Season 4, Episode 25, “In Theory”, (Original Airdate: 3 June 1991), a woman named Jenna, recently jilted, falls into a rebound relationship with an android. To be fair to the robot, whose name is Data, he really wants to be human – like Pinocchio. His programming shows that “falling in love” is something humans do, so he writes a subroutine in his programming to give this a try. Data asks all the men on the ship for input, developing his subroutine code. There are a number of humorous failures before, eventually, the young woman realizes she’s rebounding and moves on. But as they are having that last conversation she asks for a kiss, which he gives her. This conversation ensues:

DATA: With regard to romantic relationships, there is no real me. I am drawing upon various cultural and literary sources to help define my role.

JENNA: Kiss me.

(they kiss)

JENNA: What were you just thinking?

DATA: In that particular moment, I was reconfiguring the warp field parameters, analysing the collected works of Charles Dickens, calculating the maximum pressure I could safely apply to your lips, considering a new food supplement for Spot.

JENNA: I’m glad I was in there somewhere.

Retrieved on 28 Feb 2023

As one easily distracted in prayer, I most often kiss God like this. But it’s not just God. Any human conversation for me feels like this. I find myself wondering about the internet, or about social media. I find myself wishing this would stop. I go meta and accuse myself in my brain of doing stuff in my brain instead of listening. My late friend, Linda, called me out on this once. She could tell as I sat there that I was doing something else in my brain. Linda could tell I was hearing what was said, but I was not actually listening. I could respond, mostly because I had picked something and plotted my reply. Then my brain calmly waited until it was my turn to speak. To be honest, I assumed everyone did that since I had been doing it since childhood: seems to be the way my brain works. However, I do see it’s not optimal – a conversation is not like a chess game where one can plan miles and miles ahead. (I’ve learned this more in trying to acquire a second language. You spend forever doing translation in your head, plotting out words. But there are moments of actual conversation that go from rare, to a bit better.) Neither is prayer supposed to be this way, which is more than just a conversation, but rather a relationship.

Here’s another way to kiss. This comes from Robert A. Heinlein’s brilliant 1961 masterwork, Stranger in a Strange Land. In this story, a man who has been raised on Mars – his name is Michael Valentine – has just learned how to kiss and earthling women are amazed. Here Anne tells her friend, Jubal, what it’s like to be kissed by Michael. Jubal asks:

“In a moment. Anne, tell me something. What’s so special about the way that lad kisses?”

Anne looked dreamy and then dimpled. “You should have tried it when he invited you to.”

“I’m too old to change my ways. But I’m interested in everything about the boy. Is this actually something different, too?”

Anne pondered it. “Yes.”


“Mike gives a kiss his whole attention.”

“Oh, rats! I do myself. Or did.”

Anne shook her head. “No. Some men try to. I’ve been kissed by men who did a very good job of it indeed. But they don’t really give kissing a woman their whole attention. They can’t No matter how hard they try, some parts of their minds are on something else. Missing the last bus, maybe-Or how their chances are for making the gal-Or their own techniques in kissing-Or maybe worry about their jobs, or money, or will husband or papa or the neighbors catch on. Or something. Now Mike doesn’t have any technique . . . but when Mike kisses you he isn’t doing anything else. Not anything. You’re his whole universe for that moment and the moment is eternal because he doesn’t have any plans and he isn’t going anywhere. Just kissing you.”

She shivered. “A woman notices. It’s overwhelming.”

Retrieved on 28 Feb 2023

Imagine praying like that! Not “doing anything else. Not anything. You’re his whole universe for that moment and the moment is eternal because he doesn’t have any plans and he isn’t going anywhere.” Distracted in prayer or God is your “whole universe for that moment”. Which sounds better?

A practice that has helped to refocus these images is using things like the Jesus Psalter and the Jesus Prayer. How do you say the same thing over and over and not mean it as a mantra? It can be easy because Jesus is, literally, right there with you. Or perhaps in a Holy Hour, too. You can find yourself actually talking to him, for a moment. And listening. God can give us the grace to desire him like this. We need only assent to it, to open our hearts like saints before us, to open our lives to him.

Ask him to give you prayer.

Here’s a song that describes the desire to pray like this. Turn on the CC function to see the translation. Give me prayer.

So give me one good prayer
that will open for me all the gates of heaven
give me one sincere word
that will leave me breathless
i want to hang by a thread of hair in the middle of the sea
shouting will all my strength
give me one good prayer
that will open for me all the gates of heaven
give me one sincere word
that will leave me breathless
i want to be as an animal that roars in the forest all night long
master of the Universe
why have you fallen asleep
save me…