The Face of God

JMJ

FIRST DAY IN CHRISTOLOGY CLASS was hard because too much thinking! Dr Turek teaches in a way that leaves you thinking for hours after it’s all over. I’m still digesting it today, Monday, but it seems less like “thinking too much” and more like we were praying. Contemplata aliis tradere, and all that: You get a blog post even without a paper due.

First walk through the stories about Jesus’ baptism. We started with the usual question, If Jesus was without sin why did he need to be baptized? “Usual question” in the sense that it’s the sort of question that’s so common it gets used as a homiletical device whenever the Baptism of Jesus comes up in the readings. (Note to self: do not do this.) It’s sort of a gotcha. “Well, you say Jesus is God so why dunk him at all?” In the course of our conversations, we unraveled the question slowly. When my friend Marvin made a comment about Jesus being God and the sky was opening up, it hit me like a bowling ball that Jesus is not baptized like us – we are baptized like him. God was dunked into the water so that we could be dunked into the water at all. Jesus had to be baptized as sinless: we’re the odd part, confessing our sins as we go in. The new thing is that our sins get washed away – not that he was sinless to begin with. We’re reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1, and it comes home suddenly (as he teaches) that John’s Baptism was not sacramental: it didn’t forgive or wash away sins. It indicated repentance – a change of heart – but it didn’t confer grace. Jesus changes that.

But that could not be if Jesus was not God.

And it’s Jesus being God that is the point of Christology and of our salvation.

The Prologue in John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18) opens with the claim that the Logos of God is with God and also is God. Dr Turek pointed out the “with” there is actually the Greek word πρός pros meaning “to, towards, with”. So when the word is πρός God, that means to God or better “towards God”. The Logos is constantly turned toward God, the Son eternally contemplating the Father. And the Father is continually pouring himself out to the Son. John 5:19 says, “Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too.” So what the Father does (self-emptying) the Son does as well, giving himself back to the Father.

The Prologue says it’s this Logos, this Son that has “become flesh and dwelt among us” (1:14) using another Greek word, σκηνόω skénoó, meaning to pitch a tent and echoing how God pitched a tent (the Tabernacle) in the middle of the tribes of Israel. (That’s the header image on this post.) This God now dwells with us however the Prologue and the New Testament take it further. Verse 14 says we beheld the “glory” of the Word “full of grace and truth”. And closes (v. 18) saying “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” That “in the bosom” will be important. Hold on to it.

Later Jesus prays for us all:

I pray not only for these, but also for those who will trust in me because of their word, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, are united with me and I with you, I pray that they may be united with us, so that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given to me, I have given to them; so that they may be one, just as we are one — I united with them and you with me, so that they may be completely one, and the world thus realize that you sent me, and that you have loved them just as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23 (CJB)

Did you catch all that? It’s a bit dense, but Jesus wants us to be in him in his unity with the Father. As the Son is to the Father, we are to be also. The technical term is filiation or “son making”. We are made sons and daughters of the Father in Christ the Son. We are called to the same relationship, the same glory and the same unity. This is the unity of peace, the unity of love, the unity of humanity in God the Father is the real meaning of salvation. It’s what the Son brings to us. And, the more we are called to give it to others. We hand it on.

The Word, which gives life! He existed from the beginning. We have heard him, we have seen him with our eyes, we have contemplated him, we have touched him with our hands! The life appeared, and we have seen it. We are testifying to it and announcing it to you — eternal life! He was with the Father, and he appeared to us. What we have seen and heard, we are proclaiming to you; so that you too may have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Yeshua the Messiah. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (CJB)

What the Apostles touched and Contemplated (that is, Jesus and his teaching) they pass on to us. We touch and contemplate it through them. We pass it on to others. Those others touch and contemplate Jesus through us when we pass him on. We mediate Jesus to them. The face of God, through us, draws people ever closer to an unmediated experience so that they, too, may become mediators of his action in the world.

How? John 13:25 says that, at the Last Supper, St John was “leaning against Yeshua’s chest”. Remember the son “in the bosom of the Father” so, also, we are in the bosom of the Son. Because we are united with Jesus in his contemplation of Abba, God the Father. What we see Abba do we do as well by the grace of our participation in Christ. We experience our salvation not as a moment in the past (Baptism?) but as a process and one that includes not only us but others. As God was in the midst of Israel, but Israel was a light to the Gentiles, so we are to the world. It’s not an added or optional part: it is the thing itself. My evangelism to you is part of your salvation, yes, but it is part of mine as well because it is the ongoing action of Christ on the Cross.

So Christology becomes soteriology: the Son’s relationship to the Father becomes our relationship to the Father. We say “Abba” not like step children, but as sons and daughters of God in Christ who is his only begotten Son. As Mass says, we live “through him, with him, and in him… in the unity of the Holy Spirit” and we offer all glory to God the Father. The Spirit of God, aspirated between the Son and the Father in their Love, is now aspirated between us and the Father as well. And through us further into the world.

Colossians

JMJ

THE ASSIGNMENT was to read a selected book of the New Testament (in my case, The Epistle to the Colossians) and answer selected questions. A five-page paper was assigned as well as a 10-12 mins presentation.

What Problem is Being Addressed?

This depends on who is writing and when. Is this letter written by Paul (mid-50s to early-60s), by a disciple of Paul but in Paul’s name (50s – 70s), or is it “in a Pauline style” but much later (-90s?)? If it is by Paul or a disciple the issue could well be the same. If it is from a later date the content and reasons are different. Please note that sources are listed at the end of the paper.

Those who say the letter is pseudonymous point out that there are multiple terms used in this letter not used in other letters. Additionally, it does not fit into the accepted chronology of Paul’s writing: “This means Paul would have written Colossians sometime before his Letter to the Romans, creating the difficulty that Romans often betrays less development than Colossians with regard to some key concepts such as “body of Christ,” the relation of baptism to resurrection, and emphasis on Christ’s future coming.” If this text is from a later period then all of what follows is to be seen as didactic (here are some rules to follow) rather than pastoral (there are some problems so let’s talk). The author is creating a “Pauline slapdown” for their community rather than helping any local Christians deal with issues. Thus the argument seems to be, “Paul already had to deal with stuff like this 20 years ago and he did this… so y’all fall in line.” The unknown author seems to be making claims in support of some specific parties in a local church over other parties. (All the preceding is summarized from Havener.) Our class text indicates that the author wants to “… respond to the challenge presented by ‘the philosophy’ (2:8), and… to provide some support for Epaphras (1:7)…” 

Considered as actually from St Paul, though, this letter is very interesting! It is traditionally paired with Philemon. The text does respond to some cultural challenges and a good bit of encouragement for a congregation of new Christians.  The text is also part of a one-two punch delivered to Philemon and addresses issues on interpersonal relationships in the new community.

Assuming the text to be what it claims to be, the issue is one of how to live as Christians in the culture. Kreeft and our textbook both think that the issue is some sort of Jewish legalism and proto-Gnosticism. Other scholars suggest that there is more a sort of two-way pressure: from the Pagan side there was Epicurean philosophy as well as the normal Roman Paganism (worship of the Roman gods). From the Jewish side, there is legalism – a pressure to follow the full scope of Jewish religious laws. 

I find these two sides pushing images makes more sense to me than thinking most (all?) of the pushback was from the Jewish community: certainly as Catholics that we are challenged both by the culture of the secular world (our local Paganism) as well as by other religions. We are also challenged by the legalism within our own tradition. More on that in a few moments though! 

Main Message

God is in control; that is to say, “Christ is in Control.” The opening passages of this letter (Colossians 1:12-20) are a hymn from the early Church. We also sing this at Vespers on Wednesdays. Christ is described in a great number of titles, each listing Christ as the top of some theological category. All of the sources refer to this hymn as describing the Cosmic Christ. 

This Cosmic Christ is presented as a counter to “philosophy” as well as to local paganism, on the one hand, and, on the other, as in opposition to adherence to the law itself. It is our being (through baptism) in Christ that means we are no longer subject to the Jewish law or the superstitions of the Pagan world. We no longer need to dig into mysterious/occult ways, since Christ is the culmination of all mysteries.

Theological Insights

1) The Cosmic Christ

The hymn in 1:15-20 gives a number of titles and descriptions to Christ that are very much beyond the “carpenter’s son of Nazareth”:

He is the image of the unseen God and the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible, Thrones, Dominations, Sovereignties, Powers- all things were created through him and for him. Before anything was created, he existed, and he holds all things in unity. (etc)

“The hymn… makes clear that Christ is the ruler of the cosmos;… [and]has a very high view of the divinity of Christ, but it is a step in the development of doctrine, not its completion…” (Smiles)

2) In Christ (ἐν Χριστῷ) 

The expressions “in Christ” and the variations “in him/ whom” and “in the Lord” appear extensively in Paul’s writings, some two hundred times… In Colossians, in Christ (and the variations) occurs nineteen times. …Paul used (in all of his writings – DHR) fourteen compound words beginning with sun, the preposition translated “with.” Three of them are found in Colossians, co-­buried (2:12), co-raised (2:12; 3:1), and co­-quickened (2:13). (Martin)

One could be tempted to read “in Christ” as a mere psychological or spiritual “identification” with Christ, but the Catholic understanding of “in Christ” implies the doctrine of theosis or divinization and it means that the believer participates in Christ fully by Grace. There is a mystical way in which the believer is being Christ or mediating Christ in the present situation. 

¶1691 “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.”

¶1692 The Symbol of the faith confesses the greatness of God’s gifts to man in his work of creation, and even more in redemption and sanctification. What faith confesses, the sacraments communicate: by the sacraments of rebirth, Christians have become “children of God,” “partakers of the divine nature.” Coming to see in the faith their new dignity, Christians are called to lead henceforth a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section III “Life in Christ”

Kreeft points out that the main argument is “(1) Christ is divine. (2) And you are in Christ. (3) Therefore, ‘if then you have been raised with Christ… set your minds on the things that are above not on the things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God’ (3:1-3).” Paul spends most of chapters 2 and 3 walking the reader through the implications.

3) Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers

Jesus is cited as head over all things, therefore we do not need to submit ourselves to any spiritual “others” such as angels, elemental powers, etc. Is Paul addressing worship of local deities or some proto-Gnosticism? Most of the sources think there’s something like Gnosticism going on here. Paul uses the term “Philosophy” (love of wisdom) in 2:8. Greco-Roman paganism had “taboo” days where certain things could not be done. Many superstitions command “do not touch” and “do not eat” so the contents in the Epistle do not need to refer to Judaism alone. What, exactly,  is Paul referring to? At this great remove, we might be unable to know for certain, but there are many examples today of people who make Christ one of a “pantheon” in their spiritual-but-not-religious way.  Paul is saying that’s not following Jesus who is higher than all other beings. This is the prime insight, really, of the entire letter. In Christ is our Hope, and our action, our life, our one true religion.

4) Relationships in the Home in theory and practice.

Jesus’ primacy is not only a theological or spiritual claim: we must act as if it’s really real. Paul points out that the Cosmic Christ has implications in the home noting that contrary to the abusive family structures common in the Roman world, the Lordship of Christ requires our families to change. The Bible Project makes it clear that the way a Roman Pater Familias ran his home was nothing like a Christian Father exercising his headship in Christ.  What Paul describes would not be very recognizable to the “secular” Roman world.

Then Paul gives an example in the relationship between Philemon and his slave Onesimus. Paul does not demand the political overthrow of a system, but the change he makes in the relationship between a Roman Master and a Roman Slave will, eventually, change even our country. But we know the laws are only part of the work: it is still hearts that must be changed. 

5) Comments on Legalism

Legalism (which will not save us) is part superstition and part politics. The legalism mentioned in the Epistles is usually referring to circumcision, dietary laws, and the sabbath, but as I noted Roman Paganism has such rules as well. Today we practice a sort of reverse legalism rather than evangelism. Paul wants us to change hearts and relationships, to win souls for Christ. He doesn’t give us new rules for the household, he shows us how love plays out. Paul wants the Colossians and – especially? – Philemon to do the hard work of changing hearts – their own hearts and others. Following rules does not save us. 

How often in our modern world do we try to change laws to make people comply with Christian morality rather than doing the hard work of changing hearts?


Further Notes (for speaking)

Paul is writing a letter of encouragement. He has been visited in prison by his friend Epaphras – who founded this community – and he has sent a letter to them by the hands of Tychicus and Onesimus. Now, Onesimus is the slave of one Philemon, a member of the Colossian community. Paul is also sending a personal letter to Philemon to ask for some special favors.

The church in Colossae may meet in Philemon’s house.

The Colossians are facing cultural pressure to conform from two different directions: the Pagans in Colossae as well as from the Jewish Community. Are these Jewish Christians or Jewish Jews? Well, at a certain point in time there was no division here. If this letter is written by Paul in the middle of the 1st Century the Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah are worshipping in the Synagogue along with the Jews who do not believe. The practice seems to have been for Jews to meet on Friday night and Saturday for Sabbath and then, after the Havdala service, marking the end of Sabbath, Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah gathered with Gentiles for the Eucharistic supper. (Keonig)

I would like to suggest that Jews outside the community may have wondered at Jews eating with Pagans. We can imagine the conversation being something like this:

Why do you eat with them late Saturdays?
Um…
Are they righteous Gentiles?
Oh yes!
Oh, then they should come to synagogue, at least. They can sit in the back. You know they should keep Kosher, though…
Hey, you know… brothers… if you tried to blend in more, it would be easier for all of us. Just pretend you’re Jews…

Additionally, Paul was addressing a Church arising in a pagan culture and needed to move Christians from their own cultural assumptions towards a more Christ-centered life. Paul believes that, in baptism and through the Holy Spirit, the Christians are endowed with the grace to make this change in their lives.

There are mystery religions as well as normal Roman paganism (worship of Jupiter/Zeus, etc). In this world, they would imagine Jesus to be just another deity. One Anglican scholar has noted that while there were miracle-working Rabbis in Jewish tradition, there were no such cases in Pagan culture. That Jesus was a miracle worker would, in Pagan eyes, imply that he was divine. He would be in danger of just getting added to “the list”. (Dix.)

Paul’s letter of encouragement says Jesus is more than all that. Jesus is everything.

Legalism was (at one time) the idea that following the law would save us. Paul says it is Christ who saves us and urges us to live into that (to act in trust – fideo – on our beliefs – credo). What do we do to “outsiders” though? We could evangelize them, but we often take the shortcut: to pass laws that make them obey our morality even if they are not part of the faith. We feel much safer in a society with a veneer of Christian uniformity. Integralism is legalism in reverse: sure, we have faith. We save the law for the outsiders.


Sources:

Jerusalem Bible,  1968, Doubleday.

The Feast of the World’s Redemption: Eucharistic Origins and Christian Mission. John Koenig, 2000.

Jew and Greek, a Study in the Primitive Church, Dom Gregory Dix, 1953.

New Testament (New Collegeville Bible Commentary) Daniel Durken, series editor. Article on Colossians, Vincent M Smiles; article on Philemon, Terence J. Keegan, OP.

New Testament (Collegeville Bible Commentary) Robert Karris, OFM, general editor. Article on Colossians and Philemon, Ivan Havener, OSB.

You Can Understand the Bible, Peter Kreeft.

Bible Project. Video introductions to Colossians and Philemon.
Poster Summary for Colossians.
Poster Summary for Philemon.

Colossians, Philemon, by Ernest D. Martin (Believers Church Bible Commentary). Retrieved on 3 Mar 22.

A Burning Faith

Reflection Paper on Hebrews. Dancing with Jesus from Fear, through Faith, to Fire.

banner image become all flame

JMJ

The Assignment was a Reflection Paper on an assigned text, to be an oral presentation of around 7 mins. From all of the Epistle to the Hebrews I selected 10-12, the portion “on faith”. By way of process, I started with a five page paper that was (mostly) scholarly and was, in no way, reflection or tied to personal experience. A trial run was 12 mins. I trimmed it back to 8ish an then it was still not reflective. Adding in a thread about vocation and recent events in that sphere seemed to tie it all together and require yet another edit to get it down to 8 mins.

GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE. (Hebrews 12:39). It sounds like a threat for the sinners. It is rather a promise of love for us, and of salvation. In our vocational journey, we must move with Christ from fear, in faith, to fire. 

Last year we read Pope Benedict’s Introduction to Christianity. He said the Christian faith is a description of the world as it really is: how God designed and intended things to run. To say Credo is not (only) to say something about God, but also to say something definitive about how the world actually is. Having made the foundational move to Credo, having given our assent to the doctrines, we must live (act) as if they are true. 

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31). Who has so fallen? “The Lord will judge his people” (v 30). The writer speaks of us. It is we who have fallen into the hands of God! And it’s fearful to be here. 

You here in this room know that you can try and run away from God, but he will find you anyway. God waits for you to respond in faith.

Faith is the important word. In Greek, it’s pistis. This is how the Greeks begin the Creed at liturgy: “Pisteo”.  In Latin we say “Credo”. Pistis is also used to say “by faith” here in Hebrews. In Latin, though, the translation uses a form of “Fideo”. We’ve broken this Greek “Pistis” thing into two Latin parts: a credo or “I believe” – I assent to this teaching – and a fideo or “I trust”. Picture the Greek word Pistis as breathing. Then we can imagine the Latin words breathing in at “Credo” and then breathing out at “Fideo”.

Has anyone pushed you away from your vocation? Has anyone tried to derail your process or tell you you’re not really worthy? 10:36 says “For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” We don’t receive the promise unless we endure unless we push to do the will of God! In fear we are tempted to become “those who shrink back and are destroyed, but” by God’s grace we can be found among “those who have pistis and keep their souls.” (v 37). Our faith calls us beyond fear,  deeper into God. 

You all feel this call. You KNOW we must do something! Doing is our Fideo. We must act as if our hope is real – even when we cannot see it.  Discernment is an action verb!

Everyone listed in Chapter 11 of Hebrews is acting by pistis: even though they are not getting what God promised in the future, they are acting as if they had it already. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses. 

Rahab… Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets… And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised… (11:31ff)

Faith is this action. Acting as if the world really is what God says it is even when it seems otherwise. 

Remember how Cardinal Ratzinger described faith (he means both the “fideo” as well as the “credo”): we cling to the cross but the cross is not tethered to anything: we are floating over the abyss of unbelief on a plank of wood.

God is doing something in our life and we must (in pistis) not only assent to  let him do as he wills (Credo) but we must also participate in it (Fideo). He has given us what we need to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). JUST DO IT.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God: but Christians assert that God is love. We also know love hurts like the Cross. We don’t know why, yet we struggle forward. And Chapter 12 now brings this all home: we are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses (12:1b). Every action in the arena of life, in the arena of our vocation, is watched and cheered on. 

Hebrews urges us not to reject hard struggles, but to act in pistis even so, assent and push forward to the God of love. From the saints and angels around us, we can hear a great deafening roar as the Race Set before us begins “CREDO! (YES!) FIDEO! (YES!) GO!” (And the crowd goes wild!) COME ON! AGAIN!

And, rushing forward we find at the end of 12 what we saw at beginning of my talk: here is why it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God: he is a consuming fire! 

We will not arrive at Ordination Day on a sea of clouds and golden sunbeams, but rather Paradise is only in the eternal wildfire of Divine Love that burns away our dross, that purges away our sins, that leaves us free and clear to embrace God as fully as he wishes to embrace us. How do we dance in Pistis to this end? How do we prepare? 

The Fathers use the image of metal in a forge: as it heats up, the metal never burns as such, but we can see the fire take root, filling the metal with itself, glowing. The Eucharist is the fire. Prayer. Our actions of Credo and Fideo. We commune with God and, little by little, we begin to take on his fire.

Here’s a story from the Desert: 

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, insofar as I can, I say my prayers, I keep my little fast, and I pray and meditate… Now what more shall I do?” The elder stood up and stretched his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame, and he said to him, “If you wish, become all fire.”

We have fallen into the hands of our God. He is a consuming fire – for all of us – for the sinners and the saints. He is nothing but love, forever embracing, forming, sustaining, enfolding. 

We can dive right in – in pistis – and we will live forever in the fire. He is love: both our source and our proper end. Having set out for him as the end of our race we dare not turn back. That would be to act without pistis.

 Or we can try standing outside the fire in fear, always running away from God. In which latter case we will burn out in that omnipresent conflagration of love. Forever.

Rather, Love, brothers and sisters. Love now & here. 

Be ready for Love to come. Be Love to others.

Become all fire.

St John Application Questions

JMJ

THE ASSIGNMENT WAS to do one of several application questions from the Ignatius Study Bible for the Gospel of John for the assigned chapters (2, 7, 12, 17). The study questions for the Ignatius Study Bible are amazing. The study guides can be downloaded for free in PDF format here.

2:15–16. What attachments do you have that Jesus might want to drive out of your heart (his Father’s house)?

The therapist, my spiritual director, and I are working on my attachment to “being liked” or, rather, my attachment to the fear of being disliked. I write it negatively like that because it’s actually an attachment to the fear: you know, the adrenaline, the safety of being secretive, the chance to blame others (who have done nothing) for my own inaction. Yes, being liked is nice, but it’s not really what I want: the safety of being disliked is much better. 

When I was in High School then-President Regan reinstated the Draft and we all had to register for the draft, even though it wasn’t yet being used. I was obligated to register when I became 18 and I was required to register or else I would not qualify for any federal student aid or loans. (Back in those days such aid made college actually possible.) I had intended to register as a Conscientious Objector but the reason was not one of pacifism: rather just cowardliness. I didn’t want to go into the army. As much as I can (now) construct an argument for Christian Pacifism, it was only my attachment to fear that made sense out of this in High School. This is a passion I live with and, with God’s grace and the help of more than a few mentors I’m learning to drive this out of the Temple. This is not to say God can’t use even this for a blessing: if I hadn’t chickened out of some vocational process along the line I might, even now, be a Methodist minister somewhere. God can use even my fear of follow-through. But better to make an offering wholeheartedly than to set hands to the plough and then back away.

7:24. What does Jesus mean by judging here? How does he want you to judge? What should you be judging?

“Never deny, seldom affirm, but always distinguish.” So runs a Dominican saying which I’ve heard from my spiritual director as well as from the late Bishop Robert Christian, OP. The Greek for “distinguish” here is “krino” and Jesus is saying we should “distinguish by righteous distinguishing”. Between Augustine and Aquinas we come to think that no one (usually) does evil because it’s evil but rather because they believe it to be good. The working definition of evil, then, in many of the western Fathers of the Church is to prefer a lesser good to a greater one. Yes, it’s good – perhaps even good enough – but it’s not the highest good that can be achieved here. When I hear Jesus asking us for some “righteous distinguishing” he’s commanding us to go for the highest good. Yes, it’s good to obey the Sabbath, but making a man whole is better, right? Righteous! This seems to apply to many of our “cultural war” discussions and might teach us something. Yes, someone outside of the Church might prefer X to Catholic Teaching – but the Church should bring them to the higher good. At the same time we, as Catholics, should understand that (at the moment) the “outsider” is doing what they think is the highest possible good: they need to have their sights raised ever higher.  This is the same for me: taking 20+ years to apply certain parts of Orthodoxy /Catholicism to my life because I thought I was good enough rather than striving to be as perfect as God is perfect, for the Highest Good.

12:3–5. What does Judas’ question imply about Mary’s generosity? When have you criticized (or been criticized by) someone for being generous? What was the outcome of the criticism?

Judas says Mary’s generosity is misplaced. The implication is that she should have given the money for a “better use”. My job as Director of Outreach at St Dominic’s includes the function of Parochial Almoner: this process of “be critical re:generosity” is a daily part of my life! The questioning goes both ways: because parishioners can both give uncritically and also be critical of my disbursements. The constant process of confusing “getting rid of my junk” with “generously giving to the poor” is hard to work with and yet – even though I have to try and redirect the junk to other places – it also must be discerned as their own sincere actions.

The other side of this equation is folks who want to keep better track of our generosity to others. Now, to be fair, I’m not giving away my money. I’m here to facilitate the charity of others. So, they have some right to ask questions about where the money goes. So, again, I have to assume they are doing the best they can: my own charity is in how I act to them. 

The rest of this question is “What was the outcome ?” and it’s a learning curve for me: my boss has asked me to be transparent with the whole process so I’m finding ways to provide education and to not-judge at the same time. 

17:14–17. How does the saying “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy” apply to your own relation with the world?  To which of the two do you—in your heart of hearts—belong? How do you know that?

While I hope that one day there will be a final answer to this, it is not – yet- “unwordly” enough for me. Two weekends ago a mutual friend introduced me to someone from St Louis whom I had previously known only online. Within a few moments, we were small talking very well in what – I realized later – should probably be categorized as “near occasion of sin”.  For someone who could read the code, we were using it might have been heard as scandal, but it all sounded normal and polite with a good bit of laughter. I found myself wondering why there was always this meaningless and yet near-sinful patter like that just beneath the surface. 

One of my (American) Eastern Orthodox heroes is the late Fr Seraphim Rose (1934-82). He was raised as a member of the Methodist church and drifted into atheism and vaguely eastern “spirituality” but, eventually, joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1962. By the time of his death 20 years later he had become a monk and was recognized as an Elder in that tradition, a spiritual father or “Staretz”. A story is told of one night a youth retreat at his monastery (in Platina) played a trick on him: serving vanilla ice cream as a special treat to the monks, the kids gave Father Seraphim a scoop of mashed potatoes. He ate the potatoes as thankfully as the other monks eating the ice cream. Although this is sometimes recounted as proof that he had “no attachment to food”. I think it embodies other Christian virtues: unwillingness to accuse others, joy in what one is given, and the blessing celebrated by a simple act of thanksgiving for all that is. I’m not there yet: I’d still complain. To cycle back to the first question, I’m still inclined to enjoy the ice cream more (eat dessert first) out of fear that I might miss out on something good. This is something to keep working on and pray gets set right in time.

Whose Image is This?

The assignment was to present answers to some study questions for Matthew Chapter 22 (RSVCE – 2nd Edition) in the Ignatius Study Bible. The Study Guides can be downloaded free here. Since this wasn’t a written paper, this text is more the general idea of my presentation, which went over my 20 allotted minutes. The questions are in bold below.

JMJ

If politics are allowed play into my online discourse – social media or blogging – often it can cause distress for friends on left and right: traditional Christians who try to live out the faith (as Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants) can seem too far to the right for some secular liberals and yet – at the same time – too far to the left for secular conservatives. 

Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world – as the Christian is called to be in this world but not of it. This does not mean Jesus kingdom is not here, active and now: only  that it’s a different pattern than the worldly ideas of rule.

Jesus walks us through several of these sorts of oppositions in Matthew’s 22nd Chapter. 

He takes on Jew and Gentile, Pharisee and Sadducee, and sacred vrs secular. None of these are “the right way” to view the Tax Question. Let’s take a look at that passage (Matthew 22:15-22)

The Study Bible asks

What is the malice in the collaboration between Pharisees and Herodians in asking Jesus the question about paying taxes?

To get the answer (What was the malice?) we need to answer these questions first: who were the Pharisees? who were the Herodians?

The Pharisees were the “rabbinic” party of Judaism. It might surprise you to hear me say that on our modern “liberal/conservative” spectrum they were the liberals. The reason I say this is because they believed that man could – with God’s help – interpret the scriptures. That is to say that one did not need to take the scriptures literally, at face value. One could read into them for meaning, looking beneath the literal meaning of the words for greater clarity. 

The Oven of Akhnai

The Sages taught: On that day, when they discussed this matter, Rabbi Eliezer answered all possible answers in the world to support his opinion, but the Rabbis did not accept his explanations from him.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, the walls of the study hall will prove it. The walls of the study hall leaned inward and began to fall. Rabbi Yehoshua scolded the walls and said to them: If Torah scholars are contending with each other in matters of halakha, what is the nature of your involvement in this dispute? The Gemara relates: The walls did not fall because of the deference due Rabbi Yehoshua, but they did not straighten because of the deference due Rabbi Eliezer, and they still remain leaning.

Rabbi Eliezer then said to them: If the halakha is in accordance with my opinion, Heaven will prove it. A Divine Voice emerged from Heaven and said: Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer, as the halakha is in accordance with his opinion in every place that he expresses an opinion?

Rabbi Yehoshua stood on his feet and said: It is written: “It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). The Gemara asks: What is the relevance of the phrase “It is not in heaven” in this context? Rabbi Yirmeya says: Since the Torah was already given at Mount Sinai, we do not regard a Divine Voice, as You already wrote at Mount Sinai, in the Torah: “After a majority to incline” (Exodus 23:2). Since the majority of Rabbis disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, the halakha is not ruled in accordance with his opinion. The Gemara relates: Years after, Rabbi Natan encountered Elijah the prophet and said to him: What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do at that time, when Rabbi Yehoshua issued his declaration? Elijah said to him: The Holy One, Blessed be He, smiled and said: My children have triumphed over Me; My children have triumphed over Me.

It’s that last part that is important. The “liberalism” is that humans can “triumph” over God and tell God what the law should be. The Pharisees were among those who practiced this process of interpretation. There are several places in the New Testament where Jesus is debating with various Jewish leaders and says their interpretation is not the correct one and then – as God – he offers the truth. 

However, in our later chapter here (34-40) Jesus, being asked about the greatest commandment takes sides with one Pharisee over another! For there were two great schools of thought in interpretation, each named for a prominent rabbi, the “house of shammai” and the “house of hillel”. Rabbi Shammai (50BC-30AD) said the greatest commandment was to Love God (etc) and the second commandment was to keep the Sabbath. Rabbi Hillel (110 BC-10AD) said the same about the first commandment, but the second was to love your neighbor. Jesus – that is God – side with Hillel here. 

(Think about those who questioned Jesus repeatedly about Keeping the Sabbath! Perhaps they are from the school of Shammai?)

On the other hand, Jesus sided with Shammai on the question of divorce: Hillel said it could be for anything, even burning the dinner. Shammai said only for infidelity.

Anyway, the Pharisees were the party of “interpretation”. Remember that. It’s not that interpretation is wrong – it’s part of our tradition! But one still must have the right interpretation. 

The Pharisees are (generally) in opposition to the Sadducees, not only on theological matters, but also in terms of politics: the Sadducees have the temple priesthood and are the upper class. While the Pharisees are educated, solidly established in society, they are (generally) closer to the people, they are the Rabbis in the local synagogues, the teachers that are “on the street” as it were.

The Pharisees were looking for the Messiah to come and liberate the people of Israel. As we have discussed here in Class they were expecting political liberation from the Son of David: another king, another leader (perhaps like the Maccabees?) that might move them into their own political sphere. 

But who were the Herodians? Here I tripped up a lot in my research. To be honest I thought I knew who they were (the party supporting the line of the Herods) but that was not exactly right. I mean, it was, but yet…

So first off they were pro-Herod. Yes. Herod the Great and his children were the client kings under the Romans. They were Jew-ish… but they were not Judeans. They were from Idumea.  

 You may remember from the OT class that Judas Maccabee led a campaign against the Idumeans (and others) in 163 BC.  Josephus reports the Idumaeans were forcibly circumcised. (A.J. 13.257–258)

So.. they are Jew-ish, but they are not, perhaps, quite as fullheartedy faithful as more-willing converts.

Some of the sources I looked up indicated that some Herodians wanted the King to establish a theocracy in Israel. The Wiki cites Tertullian (Adversis Omnes Haereses [1,1)) saying that some even thought Herod was the Messiah!

Since Herod is the Roman Client King, they support the Romans (at least indirectly) and so they are what we would call Hellenists, although we’re not talking about Greeks now. They are “secularists” who want to get along with the secular power to protect their self-interest.

So here’s some folks claiming the Messiah has already come – from outside of Israel. They have reason to not like Jesus. 

And they are aligning with the Pharisees – who clearly don’t think Herod is the Messiah! And the Pharisees have no reason to align with the Romans… or their supporters. But “politics makes strange bedfellows” yes? Or even religious politics. 

So the question… Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Is set up so that Jesus can offend the one party by saying no – whilst pleasing the other. Or, reversing the parties – by saying yes. The pro-Rome party wants you to say yes… but the pro-People party wants you to say no. This would be rather like the SSPX signing up with “Catholics for Choice” to oppose the Pope…

That’s the real malice: their alliance shows they hate Jesus more than they adhere to their own theo-political points. Hypocrites (v 18) is the exact right word here.

Jesus answer, as our NT textbook lets us know, can mean either:

  • One should pay nothing to Cesar because everything belongs to God
  • one should pay the emperor because he is God’s representative
  • one can pay Caesar but recognize that his authority is relative and that loyalty to God takes precedence.

The Dominican Sister who wrote our text thinks it’s the last one, but I think it’s more like a combination of the first two: 

In the Greek Jesus looks at the coin and asks “whose icon is this?” He uses the Greek word eikon which is used in the LXX in Genesis 1:26 to describe man made in God’s image. So… whose icon is on the coin? Yes, it’s Caesar, but whose icon is Caesar? Gods. 

Render to God… how?

I was disturbed by the “application question” the Study Bible asked here. Or, rather, I was disturbed by what seem to be the assumptions behind the question:

How honest are you in paying taxes to the local, state, and federal governments? ( a good question, but then….) What excuses do you make to yourself to avoid paying taxes? 

The Study Bible seems to think everyone is going to have excuses to make? Why make that assumption?

After working in the tech industry for most of the last 25 years, I’m over exposed to “libertarian” ideas. But our current situation, viz a vis covid, leaves us with a more-pertinent ongoing meditation on how our individual actions can effect the common good. This was the gist of the article Dcn Fred sent us just before Christmas. 

Taxes fit into this category: there are some who would object to taxes because of immoral uses crafted by government, but Jesus doesn’t seem to question the morality of the Caesar’s gov’t at all. 

There’s a prayer offered at every Divine Liturgy in the Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox tradition, for “our rulers and our God-protected army.” This phrase is also used in daily personal prayers.

Even under Stalin. There’s some mystery there, somehow, we get the Gov’t God wants us to have for the working out of our salvation.

Whose icon is this? This is something about everything belongs to God… and so we render everything to God. Yet somehow, through the mystery of Mediation, even this pagan emperor oppressing us is participating in God’s exercise of Authority.  We pay taxes to Caesar, but to God – and so our roads are built, the army maintains the peace… and we can continue to pray for God’s kingdom to come.

How generous are you in contributing to the financial support of the Church?

I don’t believe in claiming my donations to the Church on my  taxes. That feels like bragging. But I believe that the scriptures teach us to start at 10% and give until you’re not doing things you’d otherwise want to do. 

But it’s not all going to the Church. The Church Fathers suggest that it’s better to give to the poor directly… John Chrysostom suggests setting up a room in your  house to let the poor sleep in. He calls it a “Christ Room” since that’s who is really sleeping there. He says, “You have a place set apart for your wagon, but none for Christ who is wandering by? Abraham received strangers in his own home (Gn 18); his wife took the place of a servant, the guests the place of masters. They did not know that they were receiving Christ, that they were receiving angels.”

THIS sort of charity is what Jesus is talking about in the Parable 

What is the “wedding garment” that the guest has failed to wear? We’re all in the feast, right? I mean that’s the point of the first section: we are at the banquet because God sent his agents (evangelists) out to grace everyone. 

St Theophylact of Ochrid says, “The entry into the wedding takes place without distinction of persons, for by grace alone we have all been called, good and bad alike; but…

Now that we’re in… what do we do with the grace of God? How do we change our lives and the lives of those around us?

The Saint continues…  “the life thereafter of those who enter shall not be without examination, for indeed the king makes an exceedingly careful examination of those found to be sullied after entering into the faith. Let us tremble, then, when we understand that if one does not lead a pure life, faith alone benefits him not at all. For not only is he cast out of the wedding feast, but he is sent away into the fire. Who is he that is wearing filthy garments? It is he who is not clothed with compassion, goodness, and brotherly love. “

Finally, this points us to the kind of Love Jesus is talking about at the end of Chapter 22.

What does it mean to you to love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind? What do you do to demonstrate that love?

What does it mean to love your neighbor as you do yourself? How do you love yourself? How does that apply to the way you love your neighbor?

I mentioned that, among the Pharisees, this twofold reply indicates Jesus siding with Rabbi Hillel, that loving one’s neighbor is the second greatest commandment as opposing Rabbi Shammai. 

There is a story about a gentile who was exploring religion and he went to Shammai and said, “I am interested in the God of Israel. If you can explain the Torah to me while standing on one foot, I will consider this…” and Shammai beat him with his cane and chased him away.  Then the man went to Hillel and asked the same question. The elder stood up and, holding his foot in his hand, said, “What you would not have done to you, do not do to your neighbor. The rest is commentary, now go study.”

In this reply, he not only showed the heart of God’s law – love of neighbor – but he also reproved the other Rabbi – who, even as annoying as this question was should not have beat the man coming to him for wisdom.

So Jesus and Hillel, together, saying love of neighbor is the heart of the Law of God. And loving God taken as – somehow – the outcome of this love of neighbor. There’s some element of mystery here that we cannot understand in this life. But in some way, my loving service to my neighbor is loving service to God. And, likewise, my loving service to my neighbor is God’s serving them. 

The charitable man is both God’s action in service and – at that same moment – serving God.

I’m least likely to succeed at this. And daily this fact comes to me. Some of you know that over the summer I took a new job, leaving the word of tech after so long and becoming the Director of Community Services at St Dominics. The old-school title of “the guy who does the charity stuff” is “Almoner” from the word “alms”. I’m the Parochial Almoner, thus. 

Even with other people’s money, I cannot love fully. I spend my days wondering if I’m being lied to and who might be trying to pull one over on me. It’s only in our food ministry – and in the ministry at Most Holy Redeemer where I volunteer – that I can fully give myself over. It is such a blessing to feed people – even the people who may already have food! But to be open in hospitality, to know that somehow in feeding the poor at the door, I’m feeding God who feeds me… who enables me to feed the poor! This great exchange of God for God, this feeding of those who need food, the care of the smallest sparrow that God has – through me! Through me! His most unworthy servant – through me nonetheless – this is God’s grace in my life. 

So in loving you I am loving God and loving myself – it all becomes one process, one action, one outpouring of God’s love. (For, certainly, it is God who is loving here, not me.) To the conservative, giving away all this money makes us too liberal. C.S. Lewis once gave a pound coin to a beggar and his companion remarked, “You know he’s just going to buy a beer with that.” And Lewis replied, “Funny, so was I.”  We love without expecting a return. That’s how God loves us.

And yet – and yet – it’s not only the poor that need love, or, more to the point, not only the fiscally and physically poor who need loving. There are other types of poverty and we must show charity to them as well. This is where we are too conservative to our liberal friends. It is not love to let someone do whatever they want if what they want it to damn themselves. How do you love in a way that leads people to God – and away from their sins?

Here is another place where I am not yet mature enough in my faith, but our Holy Father calls us to accompany folks to God. 

OK, Let’s Try Plan B

JMJ

The assignment was to write a “reflection paper” on two chapters of God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP.

As this broken bread, once dispersed over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so may thy Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.”
The Didache, retrieved on 12/2/21.

Barthélemy’s chapter 8, Preservation or Re-creation?, speaks of the conflict between the pessimism of the priest’s point of view and the optimism of the prophet. But when the author laid out the argument for God wanting to destroy the Temple (pp. 184-191) my mind went to the above prayer from the Didache. It is the earliest recorded Eucharistic liturgy of the Church. Most scholars believe it to have been composed by 90 AD, but some date it to the 2nd Century. At 90 AD, it could have been prayed by some of the Apostles themselves! The common Eucharistic loaf (leavened bread) is composed of grains that were once scattered in the fields “over the hills” but now they are united and the community asks that the Church be united together in the same way. Yet this prayer is said over the broken bread, ready to be dispersed to the congregants and, in those days, taken by deacons to distant folks and the sick, etc. The bread is brought together in one, consecrated in the Eucharist but then scattered again out into the world, seeding the kingdom everywhere.

The author speaks of the time for “this people, or rather the remains of this people to give birth to the “remnant”, the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people.” God wills to see the religious and political institutions of Israel destroyed, like the master builder who destroys the scaffolding that now does no more than conceal the definitive building…” (p.192)

I have a sort of “Plan B Bias”. When I read the scriptures I see God warning Israel (or Noah, or Adam & Eve), and then, when they fail to heed the warning, God punishes folks. Then there is a Plan B. However God always knew what would be the outcomes of human freedom and so, as I learned in RCIA and must constantly remind myself, there is no Plan B. God is always working out his purpose, always from the point of view of someone aware of all things in all times and places. God warns Israel not in the hope of possibly turning them away but in full knowledge of where they are going! As Barthélemy says so pointedly, God wants to destroy the temple! (p.190)  This so he can scatter his people like grain on so many hillsides! To make this work, though, they have to become his people first. 

This chapter walks us through that process: the need for an “impossible intimacy” (p. 171) and the steps he takes to bring the people to himself. Most importantly is the creation of an “Us” (p. 180ff) by means of ritual and telling the stories over and over to the children. The author highlights the way a father is told to tell his children “We were slaves under Pharoah…” and Barthélemy says, “Note that ‘we’ includes the father of a twentieth-century generation as well as past or future generations. This ‘we’ and ‘us’ is common to all generations of Jews who remember that ‘we were Pharoah’s slaves’. The ‘we’ refers to this same people who are actually alive now.” (ibid) The website My Jewish Learning confirms this, speaking of an almost sacramental reenactment in at Passover: “ The Ritba (Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Ishbili, 1260-1330) stresses that every single individual must see and look at himself as though he had been a slave in Egypt and as though he went forth to freedom.’ Whereas the Hagaddah (the Passover table liturgy – DHR) frames in the plural its earlier comment that God redeemed both our ancestors and us, the obligation to see ourselves as former slaves is articulated in the singular. On Pesach, the Ritba suggests, it is not enough to speak of our communal liberation from slavery; rather, we must each experience this redemption also as a personal journey.”  Retrieved on 12/2/21.

This creation of a specific people, structurally enforced by being “condemned to liberty” as we read in Chapter 4, sets up a fully-resilient identity of faith so that the people of “Israel, dispersed among various empires, could never offer sacrifice to the powers in which those empires believed.” (p. 70) This is the strong seed, the strong remnant that was dispersed among the nations to grow. There is no Plan B, the God who did this knew, all along, how Israel would get – how all people get. The Temple Structure, the whole covenant was structured to bring the people together, to attach them to God in intimate connection. Israel was to be a “covenant of the people and light of the nations” (Isaiah 42:6, Jerusalem Bible). My Plan A/Plan B bias would say that God tried to get the 12 Tribes to line up behind the covenant but they failed to be a “holy nation” so Plan B happened, but Barthélemy’s writing makes me open up to a flight of historical contemplation: that the first step was the creation of a People. Actually, the final goal is the salvation of all who seek it (knowing that some won’t even bother). God is seeking everyone. So the People of Israel are dispersed, first to Babylon – where they learn to get on without the Temple. Then, fully armed with Rabbis, these “slaves of God alone” (p. 85) are dispersed around the known world to discover “righteous Gentiles” and “God Fearing” proselytes. These communities become “the germ that is to be raised up to give birth to another people,” they are the first people that Paul and the other Apostles evangelize. When they get to a new community, God-fearing Gentiles and Jews who speak Hebrew in prayer become the linguistic bridge to the locals, ready to share the Good News and whisper translations to those who come to listen to the Apostles preach. Evangelism ensues. The only plan there ever was is working.

The inward focus needed to become a people is first though. There are parallels in the Church as well. Bishop Barron says hunkering down is good, “But we should also be deft enough in reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” (Word on Fire, “The Benedict Option and the Identity/Relevance Dilema”, Retrieved on 12/3/21.) It is in “hunkering down” (Barron’s term) that we find the strength, grace, and identity needed to go out. This is a question of formation both for the community and for individuals. This is why we’re in school before being ordained: so that, being formed, we can go out “to the margins” as Pope Francis says to draw others into the Kingdom.

For my personal formation, the Plan A/Plan B thinking I mentioned arises from a certain Protestant apocalyptic dispensationalism which was popular when I was growing up in the South: the Jews failed to accept Christ and so the mission to the Gentiles was born. Commenting on Matthew 11:28, the Scofield Reference Bible (very popular in the world of my childhood) says “the rejected King now turns from the rejecting nation… It is a pivotal point in the ministry of Jesus.” Retrieved on 12/2/21.  And while I knew this isn’t Catholic teaching, it was such a strong part of my upbringing that I am constantly surprised by new ways it has remained hidden. Barthélemy’s writing offers a unique antidote, allowing me to contemplate the Bible as one story, one plan of salvation without any sense of replacement theology or various dispensations. Israel is God’s people scattered across the hills and gathered into one loaf in the Messiah, broken and shared and dispersed again in the Church. 

As the Church is composed of Gentiles grafted into Israel, those “who form the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) I found myself wondering if there was a parallel between how God treated Israel at this time and what is happening to the Church today. I thought of Father Ratzinger’s (as he then was) oft-quoted comments about the “Church of Tomorrow”

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision… The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution…
– “When Father Joseph Ratzinger Predicted the Future of the Church, from Aleteia, retrieved on 12/2/21.

But the earlier part of the comments is not so often quoted:

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves.“  (Ibid. Emphasis added.)

Those highlighted lines parallel the various types we can imagine among the people of Israel dispersed among the Gentiles. There were some who just accommodated themselves to the new world, forgetting all their father taught (if they were ever taught). There are some, though, who became too legalistic and judged others, forgetting grace entirely. And finally, there is the rightful reaction to the legalism of the second group that, unfortunately, goes on to throw out the baby with the bathwater, becoming“spiritual but not religious” versions of the group that forgot the faith entirely. 

As Father Ratzinger predicted, we can see all of these people around the Church today. We can also say that we were slaves of Pharoah in Egypt – but Egypt is here and now, our sins and the World System around us and some of our co-religionists blend into the world, or become too legalistic, or opt for a Catholic flavor of spiritual but not religious. We should want to be gathered again to God so we strive to become “those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith.” We can hunker down, but we need to be ready, as Bishop Barron said, “reading the signs of the times, and spiritually nimble enough to shift, when necessary, to a more open and engaging attitude.” The only ingathering that really matters is the final gathering into the kingdom and we want to bring as many as we can!  Ending where we began, our Plan A must be to humbly pray the final prayer of the Didache liturgy: “Be mindful of thy Church, O Lord; deliver it from all evil, perfect it in thy love, sanctify it, and gather it from the four winds into the kingdom which thou hast prepared for it.” 

The Blogpost of the Paper of the Book of the Prophet Haggai

JMJ

By way of introduction the paper below was presented to the class with a few added jokes – including the bad pun in the above header image. At about the half-way point in writing the paper, I had a realization about the content and had to do a rewrite. I presented this to the class honestly, noting my misreading in the context of the presentation. These observations are added after the content of the paper below.

Background

Haggai’s prophecy begins with a date – a very traceable date. To this writer, a calendar nerd, that’s a very pleasant thing: In the second year of King Darius (reigned from Sept 522 BC), on the first day of the sixth month. The footnotes in the Jersualem Bible (hereinafter JB) indicate that we are discussing August of 520 BC. In that year 1st Elul in the Hebrew calendar, so, by conversion 27 August on the Gregorian Calendar projected backward). (Haggai 1:1). The last prophecy is on 24 Kislev (17 December) of the same year  (Haggai 2:20) so the exact timeline is very clear.

Haggai is the 1st prophet to arise after the exile (notes, Great Adventure Bible p. 1242; JB p. 1257) and he also gets to actually see the result of his preaching (like Jonah in Nineveh). Haggai is traditionally regarded as a member of the Sanhedrin in Babylon. “In reference to the Men of the Great Assembly who directed the Jewish community in the Land of Israel in the early years of the Second Temple, the Talmud notes that “among them were several prophets” (Megillah 17b), an implicit reference to Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.” ( retrieved on 5 Nov 2021) In addition to his status as a prophet he has three rabbinic decisions or “matters of the law (or halakhah)” linked with him (see here retrieved on 5 Nov 2021). 

Historical Situation

After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the people have returned to Jerusalem, Babylon had fallen to the Persians. Cyrus, the King, being “roused” by Yahweh lets the people go home. (Ezra Chapter 1:1 JB).  The prophet was born in exile in Babylon came to Jerusalem  Things seem to have started out ok – they have built their “paneled houses” (Haggai 1:4) and planted gardens, but something is wrong.  The people suffer harassment from the Samaritans who feigned support, but – joining in league with the Returnees – they became saboteurs on various projects and agents provocateur creating social havoc, turning the people against the plans of the leaders (Ezra 4:1-5). Finally they “reported” the project to various political rulers in order to get the whole thing stopped (Ezra 4:6-23). “Thus the work on the Temple of God in Jerusalem was brought to a standstill; it remained interrupted until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:24)

The people are uneasy “Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. The abundance you expected proved to be little. When you brought the harvest in, my breath spoiled it… The sky has withheld the rain and the earth withheld its yield. I have called down drought on land and hills, on wheat, on new wine, on oil and on all the produce of the ground, on man and beast and all their labors.” (1:5b-6, 9, 10-11 JB) See also 2:16-17

Problems Addressed

The people are building their own houses but not the Temple. They are concerned with their own safety instead of trusting in God. “While my House lies in ruins you are busy with your own, each one of you.” (1:8b) The people are not doing this out of a sense of personal gain, but rather for fear: they want to get their lives in order lest something else should happen. There is also a sense of discouragement because of the actions of the Samaritans: social chaos and ineffective leadership lead to low morale which, in turn, gives rise to acedia. 

Audience

The people of Jerusalem, returning exiles, as well as “Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest” (Haggai 1:1) and “Then the prophets Haggai and Zechariah son of Iddo began to prophesy to the Jews of Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel who was with them.” (Ezra 5:1).

His message is two-fold. The primary one, noted in all resources I checked, is “build my temple!” but I think there’s something else going on here. As noted the issue is the low morale created by the neighbors, the leadership, and a lack of an overarching sense that God sent them home (as he promised). The oracles of Haggai are filled with proof that God is here: I am with you (1:13, 2:4) my spirit remains among you, do not be afraid (2:5) I will give peace (2:9) I intend to bless you (2:19).

The prophet has to say “go do XYZ… because God is with you and he will help you do it!” HE spends a lot more time saying “God is with you” than “go do XYZ”, even though XYZ (rebuilding the temple) is the important action that is needed. It’s not possible to do so without faith though, so – “Have faith, God is with you…” The prophet says this not only to the people but also their leaders: “But take courage now, Zerubbabel-it is Yahweh who speaks. Courage, High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak! Courage, all you people of the country!-it is Yahweh who speaks. To work! I am with you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks-and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid! (Haggai 1:4-5).

Efficacy

Both greatly effective and not. And yet… “Now Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all the remnant of the people, paid attention to the voice of Yahweh their God and to the words of the prophet Haggai, Yahweh having sent him to them. And the people were filled with fear before Yahweh… And Yahweh roused the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and set to work on the Temple of Yahweh Sabaoth their God.” (Haggai 1:12,14). Haggai is one of the few Prophets who lived to see his dream fulfilled. (You Can Understand the Bible, P. Kreeft p 158). 

God begins to bless the people from the beginning of the rebuildling: Reflect carefully from today onward (from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day the foundation of the sanctuary of Yahweh was laid, think carefully) if grain is still short in the barn, and if vine and fig tree, pomegranate and olive, still bear no fruit. From today onward I intend to bless you.” (2:18-19)

At the same time, though, the predictions of the prophet regarding the King, himself, seem to be a bit off. ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kings of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots and their charioteers; horses and their riders will be brought down; they shall fall, each to the sword of his fellow. When the day comes-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks- I will take you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, my servant-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks­ and make you like a signet ring. For I have chosen you-it is Yahweh Sabaoth who speaks.” (2:22-23) There is no restoration of the Kingdom here and no sign of all nations being overthrown. This prophecy, along with the promises 2:9 seem not yet to happen. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old. In fact, the few elders who were alive in the before-times, remember the glory of the former Temple (built by Solomon) and weep. (Ezra 3:12) And yet…

Reading these prophecies as Messianic, and leading us to the New Kingdom of God, the whole thing makes sense in Jesus:  the new glory of the temple (“the temple of his body” John 2:21) far surpasses the glory of the old temple. And even the physical structure being built here is suddenly filled with God’s very presence as Christ enters it and teaches there. 

What does it mean that Zerubbabel will be a “signet ring”? This is a title for the Kings of Judah, indicating the closeness of the King to God and his plans. However in Jeremiah 22:24 we read of the last king, “even if Coniah son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, were the signet ring on my right hand, I would still wrench him off. I will deliver you to the hands of those determined to kill you…” The connection was broken. 

This man, the grandson of King Jeconiah of Judah, forms a connection between the pre-exilic kings and the line of “common folks” that runs through the people until we reach Joseph and Mary in the New Testament. If “signet ring” means “sign of the kingship” then this link between the common tradespeople of Galillee and the last Kings of Judah is that signet. The final prophecies of Haggai, though not fulfilled in the prophet’s lifetime, are fulfilled in Jesus. 

Additional resource used: The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Old Testament, Dianne Bergant, Robert J. Karris, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1992. The general introduction to post-exile prophets (pp 571-577), and the article on Haggai (pp 592-599), both by Mary Margaret Pazdan, O.P.


Observations

Reading the prophet’s text alone (and following many commentaries online and off) it seems the issue is that the returnees from Babylon got to Jerusalem and built their own houses – but ignored God’s house. God got angry and cursed them with bad crops (etc) and sent them a prophet to tell them to build the Temple first. Then everything got going in the right order. However in reading the context provided in Ezra, Chapters 1-6, I realized that the issue was not that the Jerusalemites were being selfish, but rather they were acting without faith: the neighbors were being schmucks and so the Hebrews were retreating into their homes. God sent them a prophet to say, “Get out there and claim this land – it’s yours, I gave it to you.” Once they started acting in faith, at that moment their fortunes changed. The main thrust of the prophet’s teaching is not “you lazy, selfish, impious people…” but rather “God is with you! Be not afraid!”

It seems that this teaching is applicable to all of us.

Reflection on Balaam’s Praise

JMJ

מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ, יַעֲקֹב; מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, יִשְׂרָאֵל

How fair are your tents, 0 Jacob! How fair your dwellings, Israel! 
– Numbers 24:5 (Jerusalem Bible, 1968)

The chant “Ma Tovu, Ohehlecha Yacov” is often used at the beginning of the Friday Evening synagogue service. The congregation chants slowly and gently, as if chewing on a text for meditation. Sung in Hebrew, to a traditional tune, it seems almost like a line of the Psalms. The quoted text, though, is from a gentile: Balaam, who is called a prophet in Numbers. He would not have spoken in Hebrew – although the tex is recorded thus. What is sparking the writer’s interest though is that Balaam uses the name of God. In the Jerusalem Bible (1968) this is driven home by rendering the name of God as “Yahweh” in the text. This translation also notes when Balaam uses “Shaddai” (almighty). Balaam’s later history is not so good: in Deuteronomy, he is slain for his leading the Israelites astray. In Revelation, Balaam is described as a stumbling block, showing King Balak how to seduce the people. Without regard to the historicity of the text, it’s interesting that, despite conflicts in later sections, the final form of the story included in Numbers posits a major prophetic revelation outside of Israel.

Balaam is one of several important speakers in the Bible who are not members of or ancestors of Israel: Job, Balaam, Jethro, Melchizedek, and King Cyrus are each given very important functions in the story of the Hebrews. Collectively these seem to add a depth of complexity to Israel’s identity as “the Chosen People”. God is clearly working through other nations as well.

What does it mean that the Jewish scriptures allow for this Gentile to know the Name of God? Genesis 4 says that Enosh was the first to invoke the name of God – Yahweh is mentioned by name in Genesis 4:26 of the Jerusalem Bible – but the same Chapter puts the divine name first in the mouth of Eve. According to an article on Wikipedia, which the writer quotes with some trepidation, the Divine Name occurs 165 times in Genesis.

The implication seems to be that the knowledge of the Divine Name is spread throughout the human family and we need only be reminded of it.  Israel seems, thus, to foreshadow the Church is in the world as “the Sacrament of Salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶780), with Israel serving as a sacramental of the Name. The term is taken on purpose for a sacramental is more of a reminder of the thing, than a mystical conveyance of the thing itself. Balaam singing “Ma tovu…” then becomes a prayer of the Gentile. “Israel, you are so beautiful: you call me to remember the true God.”

Balaam knows he can say nothing but what Yahweh tells him to say. He can say neither more nor less (Gen 22:20, 22:35, 22:38, etc), even though Balak asks him to curse Israel. Balaam says, “How shall I curse one when God does not curse? How shall I denounce when God does not denounce?” (23:8) Although only tangentially related to this essay, we might well ask the same thing today regarding the Saints of the Church whom we are asked to curse in the name of political correctness.

The Prophecies of Balaam are now of note: “See, a people dwelling apart, not reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob? Who can number the cloud of Israel? May I die the death of the just! May my end be one with theirs!” (Gen 23:9b-10). God promised to make Israel’s children to be numbered like the sands of the sea. Balaam is seeing the measuring rod by which all nations are judged. They are a people “dwelling apart”. In fact, the boundaries of the nations are based on the numbers of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:8). 

I have seen no evil in Jacob / I marked no suffering in Israel. / Yahweh his God is with him; / in him sounds the royal acclaim. (Gen 23:21) His God is with him – but His God is our God as well. As I noted, they are the sacramental of the name. 

Now Balaam becomes “the man with far-seeing eyes.. one who hears the word of God.” (24:3-4a, 15-16a) and he sees what God commands. Yet the prophecies in chapter 24 are Messianic! A Gentile is making these prophecies of the coming king. A hero arises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples. His king is greater than Agag, his majesty is exalted. (24:7) I see him-but not in the present, I behold him-but not close at hand: a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a scepter arises from Israel. (24:17) Again this seems to underscore Israel’s position as among the nations of the world by virtue of this coming king. Here it is being confessed by someone not from the Twelve Tribes and so adding importance. Even those “out in the world” recognize our importance. 

If Israel serves as a sacramental of the Divine Name in the world then the ways others know the name mark moments of grace present and active. Melchizedek can bless Abraham because they both know the same God – even though Abraham is seemingly closer to God (in terms of their relationship) than the priest-king. Jethro knows of Yahweh (Ex 18:10), so that Moses can be ready when the Burning Bush happens. Rahab’s awareness of God (Joshua 2:8ff) opens her eyes and heart to helping the Hebrew spies. In various ways, these Gentiles serve as sacramentals for Israel: reminding Israel of his duty to God, or reminding Israel of God’s faithfulness.

These passages call out to the present writer because he has journeyed long in other paths, seemingly rejecting God. These passages seem to be signs of hope!  God can speak through these other people and traditions. This is echoed in writers from the Eastern Orthodox tradition who can hear Christ in the “old testaments” of other religions, for a good example, see Christ the Eternal Tao by Fr Damascene, a very “traditionalist” Orthodox Monk. This book is a favorite of the present writer as it bypasses syncretism yet shows well how God used another religion to prepare for Christ.  Likewise, Missionaries, when meeting a new people, search for connections in the local culture so that the Gospel can be preached using local signposts. 

As noted, in later books of the Bible Balaam is not a “good guy”: quite the opposite. So it’s clear that having the right ideas about God (at least sometimes) does not prevent one from going astray. In fact, it might be argued that Balaam’s nearness to what Israel was learning about God made it easier for them to follow him into his own errors. We cannot heed every word of every person outside the faith who uses the Divine Name. It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mat 7:21).  There are a lot of shenanigans caused by people who use the Name of Jesus or Christ. A Course in Miracles is a good example of how bad things can get if one is outside the faith and just misusing the faith left and right! Yet Balaam shows us it is possible for someone outside to be “connected” (even if for a moment). His song is still sung in the Synagogue. 

If Israel is seen as a sacramental of the Divine Name, a reminder that God is “the One who Is” or “the Existing One” as he is named by the Byzantine liturgy, all of us can sing, How fair are your tents, 0 Jacob!  Israel has shown us all the way to the Tabernacle of God. Balaam, though, indicates that even it is possible for those outside the community to be faithful in their own way. They can – on occasion – even be used by God to show the community her own mistakes. It could be possible for God to use non-Christians to correct our missteps. 

Psalm 7×7

JMJ

Sicut Patres Nostri
of Huw, A Lament sitting on the dock of the Bay

AS OUR FATHERS before us
So we sit by the waters
As by Babylon of old
by the waters of the Bay
Do you remember us, Lord?

The Saints have told us
Of your faithfulness, your love
Your power
You came with them to defeat their enemies
You swept before them in victory
That the Gospel might triumph
But we reap a different harvest
As we are despised not for your love
But for our victory
Their statues are toppled
Their names slashed
And your Name then slandered
Do you remember us, Lord?
We retrench and advance
but you do not go with us
And we fail
Do you remember us, Lord?

Our Fathers told us
Of days recently passed
Millions gathered in the park
Rosaries waving, families praying
Cameras filming
Yet now we cannot get permits
To pray without masks
To walk without harassment
To save children
Do you remember us, Lord?

We know naught happens but you allow it
Naught comes to pass but your will
Our semantics quibble over
Permissive or possitive
But it comes from you
Make us to know our sins
Give us contrition
That we may repent
Send us here our purgatory
That we may be purified

Our Fathers have told us that it was by your might
Trusting too much in princes hoping in strength
Did we fail in your name
Failing to offend those who offend you
Because of their power?
Have we forgotten our way?
Our new weakness your ancient Gospel
Our new death the way to renewed resurrection
Do you remember us, Lord?

Our Lord spoke to us saying we would not be loved
We would be rejected and hated for his Truth
Which is only ever Love
The world rejects us because of our sins.
Our pride in our power.
Have we forgotten you, Lord?

Your weakness is our strength
Trusting the might that was ours formerly
We lost our way in Babylon
And here, we mourn by the waters
The Bay laps our feet as we pray

We have sinned against heaven and before you
As our Fathers repented so do we
And as bread is lifted and cup is raised
Again. The work of human hands.
Show us the light of your love
That we may know the way
That we may walk with you
That we may know the way to walk
That the world may see you
As we see you
That the world may know you
As we know you
As you know us

We will praise you
Not for our power but for our weakness
Which is like yours
Weak even to death
Not for our passage of laws
But for our love winning hearts
When you then sweep before us in victory
Your Gospel will triumph
Even to resurrection
And we reap your harvest
From a world craving your love
That men may see our good works
And praise you
And we will know you then as you are
Again as you are always
Amen. Amen.

Bicameral Minds on Perelandra

JMJ

JULIAN JAYNE’S EPIC 1976 WORK, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind argues that the human mind had a major evolutionary change as recently as 3,000 years ago: that the left and right brains used to talk to each other and that this conversation could be perceived as an external voice, as the voice of God. This stoped about 1,000 Before the Christian Era. Jaynes suggests this is the real origin of all religion – the human brain talking to itself. He further posits that the evolutionary opening-up of this conversation (so that it became more unified) resulted in our modern mind – the way our “internal conversation” is all “internal”. Except in cases of certain mental illnesses, we don’t think of or experience the various voices in our head as anything but our own consciousness. The change 3,000 years ago left us hungering for that directive voice in our head. This is a very cursory view of the theory, but the book is worth a read: it explores everything from Homer to the Hebrew Prophets and modern experiments. Perelandra, CS Lewis’ meditation on man, woman, and the fall, presents a different idea of this bicameral conversation in a prelapsarian culture on Venus. A man and a woman are situated by God (Whom Lewis named Maleldil) on a planetary Eden. A tempter and a defender are sent from Earth to mix things up. Ransom, the protector, encounters the Eve of Venus or the Lady, as she is called in the book, just in time to begin the battle with evil. The story plays out in a different way from our own Eden story. There’s much else to meditate on and there’s spoilers below this paragraph: if you’ve not read it you should – you may want to pass this post by. That said, though, we’re going to focus on the bicameral conversation and implications for our human, earthly faith.


As Ransom begins to interact with her he finds the Lady strange and somewhat childlike, even silly. She grows wiser, even as he watches! She seems to be constantly growing more mature. She is somehow plugged into the Holy Spirit in an active, two-way conversation. At times this conversation is very present, pulling her full attention away from whatever is before her. At other times the conversation is somehow under the surface, but it’s always available to her awareness but never intrusive. When Ransom says something about Earth or our history – forgetting that the Lady has never been to Earth – suddenly she understands. “Maleldil is telling me…” she says when he asks her how she knows. Maleldil tells her about space travel and Mars. Other things, which are deemed less important, Maleldil does not share with her even when she asks.

The Lady of Perelandra is fully engaged in what Jaynes would call a Bicameral Conversation- except it’s actually God she’s talking to. It can be somewhat frustrating for the reader: there’s no plot device that this ongoing conversation cannot trigger. Deus ex machina except it’s actually Deus himself, not a machine. You keep waiting for her to stop talking to Maleldil and to become an active part of the book. It’s as if there’s someone outside of the sphere of reality that is interfering with what could otherwise be an excellent book about good and evil, women and men. One keeps expecting her to pull out of the conversation or perhaps to grow up. Maybe later she will mature and God will let her stand on her own? But by the end of the book – when the evil has been destroyed and she has not fallen as our first parents did – the conversation is still going. She has become infinitely wiser and yet God still whispers in her ear.

Even reading the book several times, this conversation with someone offstage constantly annoyed this writer. Why was this character – and her husband as well – so immature, even at the end of the book when they were infinitely wiser? By “immature” here what is indicated is there’s a sense where the characters in this constant conversation with Maleldil have a sort of crutch in the mind of the reader: can she (later they) not make decisions on their own? Are they condemned to be children forever? Even when they are sitting on their thrones triumphant, Lord and Lady of their own world, Maleldil is whispering in their ears about what should be done next, about what choices can be made, about how to live. Even when the “good guy” makes choices he seems to be able to do so on his own without little whispers in his ear.

For our first session of class this semester, studying the Old Testament with Wendy Biale, we were asked to read the opening parts of God and His Image: An Outline of Biblical Theology by Dominique Barthélemy, OP. In discussing Eve’s Fall, Barthélemy notes that “it seems to me to be neither at the moment when Eve began to doubt, nor when she committed the act, but when she left herself open to the fascination of the doubt, when she entertained the doubt. It was precisely then that she became responsible; at the moment when she began to dwell pleasurably on the eventuality, on that doubt which touched on the motive of the divine command, when she let her mind play with what the serpent suggested. It was not the fact of having heard, it was not the fact of having acted, it was the fact of having lent her ear willingly, of having reflected and dwelt on the possibility, of having as it were forgotten in that moment all her daily experience of God’s dealing with their lives, of God’s dealing with creation, and having preferred instead the most unlikely eventuality, which was at the same time the most terrifying: that she might be sport of God… There we have that fragile second when there is indeed still real liberty of choice and then, an instant later when there is liberty no longer. Although nothing has been done, one has toyed with and welcome the idea that it might possibly be done. And in this toying, the decisive element takes the form of a sort of crazy attraction to what is worst.” (Emphasis added.)

What Eve did was to push God away for a moment to think on her own to make up her own mind. She knew what the command was but, having embellished it on her own above and beyond God’s command to not-eat (we shouldn’t even touch it, she added) Eve takes the place of God in her own mind, “wait, maybe I have this wrong”. Sin occurs exactly in that moment where we say, “Everyone hush! (Including you, God…) Let me think for a moment.” In that moment of silence we seem to automatically drift to the worst possible reading.

Even in that moment of Eve thinking on her own – or attempting to – God was still there for the Word can never be silent, but Eve, having made the choice to pull out of the conversation, kept going. The end result was that her tuning device, if you will, could no longer pick up that station and neither can any of her children. Even for us, with the restorative grace of Baptism and continual fortification of the Sacraments, the channel is always just-slightly-enough out of tune. We pick up part of the conversation with care, and none with ease. And now our psychologists posit that the ability to do so, at all, is a sign of devolution at least if not outright mental illness.

So, for the modern or post-modern reading Lewis’ story now, the Lady seems forever childish precisely because we have no way of imagining what that ongoing conversation would be like. We may, for moments, tune in: hands held up in silent prayer and bliss before the exposed Eucharist, the joyful awe of the conception of our children, the peaceful bliss of Viaticum, but it seems painful to sustain, like a holiday that has gone on too long and we only want to get back to regular work just for the sheer normalcy of it all.

Is it possible to sustain it longer? Can we offer to God our on-going conversation? We are not sinless like Eve or the Lady of Perelandra. We are off a different sort, now, but maybe. We have different offerings: stumbles, pricks in the flesh, weak joys, half-baked ideas, spiritual blog posts generated in off moments in parking lots. We might be able to offer these to God as a sort of firstfruits to see if they can be blessed. The normal process is to suddenly cry out for help as we sink beneath the waves, but Peter first said, “If it’s you, call me to come to you…” We might be able to sustain the action more and more each time, with practice. Pray for strength, make the essay with grace, fail and try again. Eventually, it may be possible to pray for the enter tire morning commute. As the Catechism points out, “praying” is the relationship itself. It’s not the particular words we use or the rites, it’s the relationship. It’s not something you can do sometimes. When one is married, one is married always. The only reason to pretend otherwise (even in the house, first thing in the morning) is to prepare for adultery. You’ve already done it in your heart at that point.

As with other relationships, this one starts out small. We cannot sustain it: even though we are designed for it, we are not strong enough. By grace we can be brought forward, able to hold on longer. After a while we may be able to sustain a portion of a holy hour or a walk in the park aware of being In the Presence.

Jaynes seems to be right in that our mind used to, at one point, be better tuned to this conversation. It may even be the Left and Right brains as he theorizes. It follows that having severed the connection in Eden millennia ago, the whole physiological and psychological process would continue to break down. Even in evolution it is true, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” It is possible to imagine that 3000 years ago something else broke.

But by grace, we can begin to repair the instrument.

At the end of Perelandra the Lady and her Lord, having triumphed over the temptation, are enthroned and ruling over Creation is a way that humans have not been able to do since our First Parents fell. As a result, everything is disordered – even the creation itself groans under the weight of our initial misstep. On Perelandra the human beings became as gods in their own right. We only do so by grace and, mostly, after death. We have literally no experience of what this would be like. As this writer noted his frustration with the childishness of the Perelandran Lady, so he must also note his sadness that he cannot be so childlike. As this writer finds her on-going conversation with God to be a sort of crutch, so he can only limp along, on hobbled feet, sad that his pride will not let him have such a crutch. Yet it is so in hope: for filled with grace it is possible that healing can come. One day, Maleldil may be telling me.

It was precisely in her willingness to keep listening to the conversation that the Lady of Perelandra was able to avoid what was, indeed, the only pitfall: trying to stand on her own, apart from the Ground of Being that is God himself. He is not a crutch so much as the very thing we stand on at all, where the Word is the act of standing, and the Holy Spirit is the power to stand. We would not be without beingness Himself. We pretend otherwise at our own peril.