I want that. No. Wait.

JMJ

The Readings for the 6th Day in the 8va of Christmas:

Et mundus transit, et concupiscentia ejus
And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof

I’m late in posting I know. Actually I wasn’t going to make a post today, then I didn’t make one yesterday either. But when these readings came up at Mass this morning, I was like wait… there’s something there, in the phrase “the world passeth away”.  

We think of “passing away” like “”yes, the world will end”.  Yet for all that we might want to see the Apostles waiting for the world to end next week, it’s throw away lines like this one that make me feel they were on to something seriously important and timely. The Greek word used for “passing” παράγω parago, is the same word used to describe Jesus passing by the tax collector’s station or the crowd blowing past blind Bartimaeus. This is the word that Paul would have used to describe a car passing him on the freeway into Thessaloniki. 

And I thought of my favourite Latin Motto: stat crux dum volvitur orbis, the cross stands still while the world turns. 

The wold is just whizzing by, is it not? Perhaps more now than every before. And Christ on the Cross is the only still point in all of eternity.

The world is passing with his lusts. 

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

The world just passes by.

And the cross is the center of stillness.

So, yes, the world will end at some point. But that’s not why Paul wants us to not be attached to it. This present-tense verb is ongoing. The world and all its lust whizzes along. We get torn away, tossed about on winds of doctrine. 

We are still in the center: if we cling to the cross.


A Bible Study with Godwin’s Law

JMJ

The Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

Si dixerimus quoniam societatem habemus cum eo, et in tenebris ambulamus, mentimur, et veritatem non facimus.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.

I’m reading (or listening to, rather) Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land and I’ll do a full review when I’m done, but tonight, just before writing this…  there’s a portion of the book where the Author discusses M. Scott Peck’s The People of the Lie. Without getting too deep into the chapter, Peck’s point (or, rather, my take on Chaput’s take on Peck’s point) is that as we become used to telling lies, and lies to cover lies, and lies to justify lies, and lies to get by, and lies to get ahead, and lies to just get through the day, we become inured to this constant stream of lies. All parts of our culture are based on it and we cave in. We lose touch with the concept of truth, with reality, we just keep going deeper into lies.

The Holy Innocents are the result of a culture of lies.

Herod was known for his tantrums, his extravagances, and his insanity. It’s said that when he died he left orders to have pious elders killed so that people would at least seem to be in mourning for him.

Why did no one say stop when he gave the order to slaughter the babies of Bethlehem? Everyone was too tied up in their power games, in keeping clear of the king’s sword, in staying out of prison, that they decided – long before the Bethlehem orders came through – to just go along with it all. Sooner or later he’d be gone and one could live one’s life in peace. Right. Even the Magi got caught at first, giving out too many bits of info because they thought Herod was a pious Jew. Yes, killing the babies was bad, but Herod didn’t hold all the swords alone.

Why did no one stop Hitler? This question was Reagan’s bogeyman. Reagan imagined a nation of “Good Germans” who were only misled by the Madman. But everyone wasn’t misled: the Madman was elected, freely, three times before he became a dictator. People knew what they were doing. Yes, killing Gypsies, Gays, Jews, Communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, and women who slept with any of these… all bad. But Hitler had more than a little help. 

The icon above gets used as a symbol for the problem of Abortion in our country, and in the west in general. But abortion is only the capital sin, right? It’s not the root. A lot ot little sins lead up to it: unrestrained sexual passion, attempting to justify some or another form of illicit sexual activity, selfishness, greed, laziness, lust. What about institutionalized poverty, people saying you should get an abortion, what about experts, family members, and even counselors pushing the mother this way? Why ever ignore all that and focus on the thing at the end of this chain? Yes, killing the baby is bad, but the bad started a long time before.

Peck says our biggest lie that we tell to ourselves, over and over, is “I’m doing the right thing here” even when we know it’s a lie. I’ve wrestled with this from the time I was 12 and Mom told me to pretend to be 10 so I could get an half-priced ticket on an airline. It’s right to oney Mom, right? I wrestled with it working in retail when people would walk up to me and, to my face, tell a lie and ask for money back. One lady called from LA and said her friends all got free service on our site and she wanted it too. I said we don’t have free service. And she said, “Are you calling my friends liars? They are sitting here with me.” And I said, “Yes”. She hung up. We are an amazing people.

We have a liar for a president – although he’s not the first, he certainly is very blatant about it.  We have politicians who lie and we insist that “my side” is telling the truth but the other side is always lying. We have Catholics and Orthodox who can’t tolerate a bad thing being said about their right wing politics so they brand everyone else as sexual and political deviants – including their own religious leaders. We have gobbledygook spouted as gospel truth by clergy and professional websites.

We have a culture of lies. When we lie, it may not hurt, it may not bother anyone: but our soul dies a little. Teacher says every time I tell a lie a baby dies. And, quite possibly, Rachel will weep at the end for our actions too.

Ite ad Ioseph

JMJ

The Readings for Sunday 4 Advent (Year 2):

Vade, et loquere ad servum meum David: Hæc dicit Dominus: Numquid tu ædificabis mihi domum ad habitandum? Quare non ædificastis mihi domum cedrinam?
Go, and say to my servant David: Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day: but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to any one of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. I was wrestling with these readings, with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve Sermon, if you will. Then the painting at the head of this post was shared in a Catholic Men’s Group to which I belong. It’s on the cover of an Advent and Christmas book by the late Henri Nouwen. Right now I can’t find anything else about this image: is it just a random artist’s cover design? If so… wow.

And Joseph worked every day to keep God clothed and fed, to keep the family together. Was he a carpenter in Egypt? Or did he find the Egyptians hard on immigrants? Did Joseph struggle with fear and surprise at all the responsibility he had? Did he know that, leaving that day for Bethlehem, he would not be back for five or six or ten years? When he got to Bethlehem did he set up a shop and do odd jobs?

Regardless of his age (some would say 50, others 20), Joseph was part of an arranged marriage, be that between himself and Mary’s parents (at 50) or between his parents and hers (when he was a boy). Leave all idea of romance out of this story. The Holy Family was put together – in God’s full providence – following the cultural desires and needs of their own families. Mary’s parents needed a married daughter so they could be provided for in their old age. Church tradition says they were already very elderly, so they wouldn’t have had time to wait for a boy to grow up. Joseph married into a set of needs that he was expected to meet.

Did Joseph know what he was getting into (before the Angel showed up in a dream, anyway)? Did Joseph know this was God’s Mother? The tradition of Mary as a mystical child would say she was very odd and everyone knew it. But did Joachim and Anna sit down and say, “Here’s what we knew…” Did they know?

God’s grace is enough.

One way to look at Joseph is to imagine a great saint who knew all this stuff and squared his shoulders and said, “OK, God. Hit me: I’m ready.” We want to imagine that, I think, because we want Joseph to be something more. We want Mary and Joseph to be more than they are just so we can imagine the story making any sense at all. But God doesn’t work like that.

Joseph’s namesake and ancestor, who also had dreams, was not only a member of a wandering tribe in the waistlines of the fertile crescent, he was also annoying as all get out. He was a teenager who offended his parents and brethren (despite their love for him) so much that his brothers sold him into slavery. And in slavery, even there, he nearly got raped by his owner, and thrown into prison for not playing along.

God uses broken things.

The idea that Joseph was a widower, looking for someone to manage the house and cook and clean makes sense. He would get a wife, yes, but he would also get Anna and her famous stews, Joachim’s business sense, and the kids of his first wife would get “step grandparents”. His household would be enlarged and his bed warmed. And there would be many good things, right?

But then it all fell apart and here she was with child.

But this was different. And even though his friends noticed and everyone could count and everyone wondered who the father was… he said, No, I will do this. And then that night in Bethlehem. And all that followed. What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God.

God’s grace is enough, but Joseph still has to say yes – over and over and over. God didn’t pick any man for this Job. He picked Joseph. Joseph who would die in 15 or 20 years, but who would defend this little family, this first Church. Joseph who would provide and care, defend, lead and build up. Joseph who would teach Jesus how to be a man in a world where men raped and pillaged to get strong. Joseph who would show Jesus how to pray and meet his obligations as a pious Jew. Joseph who would show Jesus how to saw, hammer, measure, and build. Joseph who would be “Daddy” for all time to this Man who was God.

God did not pick just any man.

But Joseph. Fear does not mean that one backs down. Fear is an offer to back down. Courage, the strength of heart needed to say yes, God gives. But it must be a gift accepted. It must be a gift used. Joseph accepted it over and over as we all must, and used God’s grace to protect this little family, this holy household. And when, in stunned silence, he watch first the poor, and then the very wealthy, come and do homage to his child, Daddy manned up and took care of everything with God’s grace.

Joseph.

Jesus learned about being a man in this world from this man. God picked this man to teach him.

In later years, Joseph died. And Jesus and Mary and the rest of the household mourned. Then in the Resurrection when Jesus harrowed Hell and opened wide Paradise, there was one man, right? There was one man would have been greeted with a hug, and that word, “Daddy”. And how could he not have been so greeted?

What God did not give to David, he gave to David’s son: for Joseph built a house for God. And who now still cares for this little family, this Church. Who still builds a house for God if we but let him build it in our hearts.

Go to Joseph. He will help. He will build up. He will protect. He will watch and guard. It’s his job and he says yes.

Christmas in Purgatory

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Et quis poterit cogitare diem adventus ejus, et quis stabit ad videndum eum? ipse enim quasi ignis conflans.
And who shall be able to think of the day of his coming? and who shall stand to see him? for he is like a refining fire.
Happy Christmas: we’re doomed, here in the wealthy, bullying west. We’re doomed. But I hope it is to our salvation. How can that be? Yesterday’s post didn’t rant about our personal doom: but rather about the doom of this unhealthy culture of consume and die in which we are engulfed. We are so busy building it up because we can that we never even stop to ask if we should. (We shouldn’t. God’s got a way out. Through him:

  • The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. – Exodus 13:21
  • and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. – Numbers 14:14
  • who goes before you on your way, to seek out a place for you to encamp, in fire by night and cloud by day, to show you the way in which you should go. – Deuteronomy 1:33
  • Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. – Psalm 78:14
  • then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy. – Isaiah 4:5
  • At the morning watch, the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. – Exodus 14:24
  • It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. – Genesis 15:17
  • “I kept looking Until thrones were set up, And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9
  • “Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form–only a voice. – Deuteronomy 4:12
  • “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 4:15
  • “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? – Deuteronomy 4:33
  • “The LORD spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire, – Deuteronomy 5:4
  • “You said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. – Deuteronomy 5:24
  • “He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. – Deuteronomy 10:4
  • “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. – Deuteronomy 4:36
  • ‘For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? – Deuteronomy 5:26
  • Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. – Exodus 19:18
  • And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top. – Exodus 24:17
  • For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. – Isaiah 66:15
  • May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. – Psalm 50:3
  • “From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. – 2 Samuel 22:13
  • From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire. – Psalm 18:12

God’s way out is passing us through his refining fire. This is the very meaning of Purgatory: the refining fire of God’s love, making us pure. Will it hurt, mostly. But we will be blessed to know the pangs of love.
And when there is something here, that is not for our salvation, be it drugs, sex, politics, a relationship, television, whatever; it will take fire to burn it out of us. We are doomed: we, the collective, cultural matrix we’ve built up. Each of us, inside it, are the icons of God, but you can’t tell me the world we have made is that at all. We are doomed.
If we die with this wrapped around us, God love will still take care of it. 
But if we pass through the Jihad (Syrian Catholic), the Ascesis (Greek Catholic), the Podvig (Slavic Byzantine Catholic), the holy Struggle of purification here, while we’re alive: we can offer it all up to God and, maybe, prevent others from falling into the same traps, the same pains, the same struggles as we. 
There is one last reference: too those who have rising beyond the fire:

And I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God. – Revelation 15:2

For those who, by grace, make it through… and grace is only more fire… there is glory.

Why We’re Doomed

JMJ

The Readings for Friday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Fecit potentiam in brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
   et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis,
   et divites dimisit inanes.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
   and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
   and the rich he has sent away empty.

Christianity was a revolution in Roman society because it taught the poor that they could care for themselves by sharing what little they had.

From the beginning, though, the Rich, also welcomed at God’s table, had trouble. So much of their lives had been spent acquiring stuff and holding on to stuff, that it was hard to shift gears. Ananias and Sapphira sold some property – which means they had it to sell in the first place. But they couldn’t bring themselves to give the money to the Church.

The Corinthians couldn’t bring themselves to even share meals with the poor and the slaves who were limited in their time to come and go. Paul yelled at them and changed their communion rites.

The wealthy church in Rome was so decadent that Benedict left.

Francis…

This list goes on.

One thing about 21st Century Capitalism: everyone is the poorest. Nearly no one in America has any conception of anyone under them in the pecking order. All of us, though, know someone higher up. We are quite willing to mark ourselves are “one of the 99%” or whatever you want to call it, but we’re all pretty equal down here. It’s them folks, up there, that you have to watch out for.

I learned this while protesting my oppression. I’m in a class of people who tend to have higher income, more college degrees, better homes, and more disposable income than many Americans. But, you know, I’m oppressed. And I never figured out why the children of slaves couldn’t see that.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that everyone needs someone to hate and, recently, it’s been the rich. So: it can’t be me. Don’t hate me! I live in a basement apartment with one place to sit and and I sleep on the floor. OK, I pay more for my basement than my parents have ever paid in monthly mortgage payments, Rogue Ales are my house wines, and I get new stuff whenever I want. But I’m one of you.

We’re all equal down here. It’s those folks up there you have to worry about.

And then one day I realized I was those folks up there. Most of the world doesn’t care who I voted for in the recent election. Most of the world sees major personal differences between our various presidents, but most of the world sees no economic or policy differences. Yes this one is brash, that one is colored different, that one over there seems quite and stupid. But we’ve never changed our north star: economic hegemony over the entire world so that we can have all the stuff.

We’re way up there.

Until recently that was clear.

The thing about the pecking order is, though, the higher up you get the harder you have to peck to keep the masses under you.

And so, it’s only logical, that someone would eventually start pulling the rug out from under the feet of the middle class, even the upper middle class.

The proud are being scattered now in our conceit.
Rich people, turning against rich people, to fight it out over tax refunds and exemptions.

We are doomed.

We’re getting what we deserved. For while we were fighting with each other about “abortion rights” and saying we were “being oppressed” by cake bakers, we were just killing off the living in other parts of the world in order to have cheap plastic junk at WalMart.

When the poor are “lifted up” it won’t be any of us reading these pages. The Meek and the Lowly are not writing these words, nor are the hungry using their smart phones to read it.

We are doomed.

Not my president, we say. Even as we call him all the names he calls us. Even as we refuse to put forward candidates who will work Justice, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly with God. I’m with Her we say in self-righteous indignation, as neither she (nor her husband) ever did anything to fix the problems of the poor in this country or in others. Mostly in others, really. For every trade agreement only made it worse, feeding the pockets of the rich, and allowing some of us to pretend we were rich because we got more stuff.  And all the while dumping on the poor; the real poor. And now that the poor are running around the world in terror from the horror we (or our proxies) have built in their countries, we build walls to keep them out.

We are doomed.

All the while we deploy our cheapest political tricks: divide and conquer. Your women should be free like ours. Your political minorities are way more oppressed than ours.  We can fix it. Regime change, Neoliberalism, cheap electronics, it doesn’t matter.

We are doomed.

We are doomed because one day (again) the God we claim to believe in will do what he always does: casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly. Filling the hungry with good things he’s going to send the rich (that’s us) away empty. Starving. Lost. Dead.

Maybe that will save us. So, come quickly, Lord. And stir up the crap again.

Belushi, Geer, and God… (ok, and Solomon.)

Chagall’s Song of Solomon 1958
JMJ

The Readings for Thursday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Similis est dilectus meus capreæ, hinnuloque cervorum. En ipse stat post parietem nostrum, respiciens per fenestras, prospiciens per cancellos. En dilectus meus loquitur mihi. SPONSUS: Columba mea, in foraminibus petræ, in caverna maceriæ, ostende mihi faciem tuam, sonet vox tua in auribus meis: vox enim tua dulcis, et facies tua decora.
My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart. Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices. My beloved speaks: My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall, shew me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy voice is sweet, and thy face comely.
Thus is fulfilled, as I posted yesterday. The Christian tradition follows Jewish tradition on this love story: the Bride is the Church (the New Israel) and the Groom is Christ. For Jews it’s Israel and the Holy One.

This image of Christ, peaking through the latice at us, of the love watching through the window, is one of the best images ever, as he sings to us, “My dove, hiding in the cleft of the wall…” It’s erotic. It’s romantic. It’s… rather creepy really. If we listen with our modern ideas of sex and sexuality. Why do you want your lover watching you through the window shades? Why does your lover want to?

John Belushi in Animal House (1978)

This is our ideas of human sexuality: our passions run amok so much so that we can’t even begin to image God as lover without it getting creepy. The creepy part, though, is not what God is doing in this verse: it’s our imaginations.

The Virginal conception and birth of Jesus doesn’t just seem “hyper-pious” it seems improbable, if not impossible: because no one we know is a virgin any more. How can two, normal teenagers (Joseph and Mary) have abstained from Sex? Even following the tradition of the Church where Joseph was elderly, we know – right? – we know that Old Guys marry Young Girls to have more sex. We know this.
We know with all our faith that my body doesn’t control me, that old people need Viagra, that porn is normal, that men don’t watch women through windows, or they get arrested.
And that God doesn’t’ care what goes on in my bedroom.
But if we see the Church as the Bride of Christ… and that seems creepy… Maybe we’re missing something about human sexuality? How did 2,000 years of Christians and 4,000 years of Jews before that manage to handle it? And how about all those pagan places where the King was married to the land for the sake of fertility and defense? What are we missing today where God is sexless and is not empowered to pick his own pronouns through the only voice he has givne us, and where the Church is an it, not a she?
Although the Song of Songs tends to switch back and forth in voice between the Bride and the Goom, along with a few other parties, the Narrator tends to sound like the Bride: saying “My lover says…” when the Groom speaks.  Solomon has put on a woman’s voice, telling the story of how God has wooed Israel.
Larry Norman’s amazing “I’ve Got to Learn to Live Without You” (1972) is one attempt by the rocker legend to put himself into a feminine persona as he sings about Christ. (There’s another one on the series of three albums known as the Trilogy, but I can’t just now remember which song it is.) 
The Church, too, is the feminine voice, expressed mostly by men, wooed by God. Was it CS Lewis? Or someone modern writer who said that God is the ultimate power, the male, active force to the passive, receptive, female force of the entire cosmos. We are all feminine before God.
And here, in Solomon’s text, if we let it be about romance, about joy, about love, it’s not at all creepy. We’re the ones who have wandered away: we are the prostitute that God has married. We are the wayward one rescued by the strong hand that would bring us back only for love.
Richard Geer and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (1990)
Christmas really makes no sense otherwise. God has self-sacrificed out of love for us. Just how much self-sacrifice we shall see on Monday. It is so deep, so wide, so powerful that we cannot avoid it save only by callousness, cold-heartedness, and pride.

We are called to humility before this God who only wants to love us.

Will you not be wooed by him? He says you are lovely. Will you not let him hear your voice?

You came into my life, you took me off the shelf
You told my name to me and taught me what to do
But then you went away and left me by myself,
I feel completely lost and lonely without you
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
Today I thought I saw you walking down the street
With someone else, I turned my head and faced the wall
I started crying and my heart fell to my feet
But when I looked again it wasn’t you at all
Why’d you go, baby? I guess you know,
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you, without you
It’s just no good without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you
I’ve got to learn to live without you

Thus was fulfilled.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Audite ergo, domus David. Numquid parum vobis est molestos esse hominibus, quia molesti estis et Deo meo? Propter hoc dabit Dominus ipse vobis signum: ecce virgo concipiet, et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel.

Hear ye therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.
Our verse from Isaiah says, ecce virgo concipiet, behold a virgin shall conceive. But St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was working with, at first, the Greek text of the Septuagint, not the Hebrew text as we know it. In Greek, the word used for the person who will conceive is “παρθένος” parthenos which not only means “virgin,” but also caries echoes of Artemis and Athene, and includes the concept of virgo intacta, The Hebrew, however, uses only the word עַלְמָ֗ה almah. It means only “young woman” or the rather formal title of “Maiden” without meaning, specifically, “virgin”.

There is a story from the Church’s tradition that, when the LXX was being translated, a young worker came to this passage and wanted to write the Greek word for girl, νύμφη nymphe but the Holy Spirit intervened and said parthenos. The young man said, “But Lord, that word means young girl.” And the Holy Spirit said, “Write parthenos and I will show you the fulfillment of it.” This young man, so the Tradition states, was Simeon, who was kept alive to a great age to see the fulfillment of this promise when the Blessed Virgin presented Our Lord in the Temple at Candlemas.

But even so, the story discussed has nothing to do with Jesus or Mary, right? There’s a war going on, and the King wants to know if God is with us or against us in this war. Isaiah says, God is with David. And ask anything you want as a sign.  The king says he dares not tempt God – even though it is at God’s own command. But God says, “Fine, if you will not ask, I will show anyway…” This has nothing to do with Messiah or anything. But the Angel says it does. How is that?

For the early Church and for the Holy Spirit, for the Apostles and the Patristic communities, the entire world was pointing to Jesus. The quest was to find out how. The Old Testament must, in all its ways, prefigure Messiah. So we must meditate and pray to open the text. The same way that the Angel said this unrelated verse from Isaiah is a Messianic Prophecy, so also is the passage from Genesis about the head of the serpent, so also the making-mute of Zachariah is a sign that the Old Covenant is done, so also Samson is a sign of John the Baptist, Judith of the Blessed Virgin, Daniel in the Lions’ Den of Christ in Hell, the Red Sea of Baptism, Manna of the Eucharist, Egypt or Babylon a sign of “this world” and the escape therefrom a sign of our Christian growth… the list goes on.

The image at the top of the page is of the Welsh Poet, Taliesin. Taliesin seems a bridge between the pagan darkness in Wales and the Christian revolution of Arthur. In fact, the poetry of Taliesin (as we have it) weaves together the two Wales into a unified whole that allows us to the see the Christian truth foreshadowed in the past, a Pagan Old Testament, if you will, in the myths and stories the Cymry told each other in their camps and homes long before St David and the missionaries ever got there.

Certainly the ancient Bards of Wales never intended or imagined Christian context for their stories, but once the Truth was revealed, all could see He had been present all along in their quest.

So it can be in our lives: once Christ is revealed as not “a true story” but as “The Truth” then anything that was true before is, lo, a bit of Christ present and still true. Yet a fuller, deeper, and more complex meaning is revealed.

This was how the first Christians read the Bible. We inherit their readings in our Tradition, but the skill seems lost. It’s hard to look at a Biblical Story and not want to see the literal truth or untruth of the letters. If the Bible is not History what good is it? But the Bible is history. That’s just not all it is.  If that’s all it is, it might as well be any other history text.

But the Bible, to the Church Fathers, is more like a Tarot Deck than a History Book. Prophecies are Fulfilled not because they were literal predictions that literally came true in a verbatim, literal way. So boring. They are fulfilled, they are Made Full of the Holy Spirit and bring forth the Word of God like Mary.  They are signs that await the explication of their fullest meaning in Christ’s teaching, in the Church, in the action of the Holy Spirit, in the lives of the Saints.

I said Tarot Deck and I mean no scandal: anyone can go out and buy a book of “the meanings of the Tarot Cards” and learn that the Ace of Cups means a new love affair, but a proper reading of cards, of stars, of the I Ching… of anything, really… is not just “fortune telling” but rather visual meditation. Done right any discussion of any set of Symbols should lead us to Christ (if we’re telling the Truth). This is why those who Translate the Bible to be “inclusive” are missing the point. We’re not the message, the subject, or topic of the Bible: Jesus is.

Like Taliesin wove his text of Pagan Past into a Christian Future, the Church has done the same with the Old Testament, missionaries have done where ever the Gospel has gone, and you need to do the same with your life in the Church. Where has God acted that brought you to the Faith you now have? If you are not in the faith, how has your life brought you at all to reading these words? Here God is acting.

The music is playing all around us, and all we need to do is sing.

A translation of Deus Duw Delwat

O God, the God of formation,
Ruler, strengthener of blood.
Christ Jesus, that guards.
Princes loud-proclaiming go their course
For a decaying acquisition.
The praising thy mercy.
There hath not been here;
O supreme Ruler;
There hath not been; there will not be,
One so good as the Lord.
There hath not been born in the day of the people
Any one equal to God.
And no one will acknowledge
Any one equal to him.
Above heaven, below heaven,
There is no Ruler but he.
Above sea, below sea,
He created us.
When God comes
A great noise will pierce us,
The day of judgment terribly.
Messengers from the door,
Wind, and sea, and fire.
lightning and thunder
A number without flattery.
The people of the world groaning
Will be concealed.
Kings will shudder [that] day,
Woe awaits them!
When the recompenser shall appear,
Let the heaven appear below.
A ruddy wind will be brought
Out to the cinder,
Until the world is as desolate
As when created.

Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
The love-diffusing [Lord] will separate us.
The land of worldly weather,
A wind will melt the trees:
There will pass away every tranquillity
When the mountains are burnt.
There will be again inhabitants
With horns before kings;
The mighty One will send them,
Sea, and land, and lake.
There will be again a trembling terror,
And a moving of the earth,
And above every field,
And ashes the rocks will be;
With violent exertion, concealment,
And burning of lake.
A wave do ye displace,
A shield do ye extend
To the travelling woe,
And violent exertion through grief.
And inflaming through fury
Between heaven and earth.

I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Songs and minstrels.
And the hymns of angels,
Will raise from the graves,
They will entreat from the beginning.
They will entreat together publicly,
On so great a destiny.
Those whom the sea has destroyed
Will make a great shout,
At the time when cometh
He, that will separate them.
Do not thy passions counteract
What thy lips utter?
Thy going in thy course into valleys,
Dark without lights.
And mine were his words.
And mine were his languages.

The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also…
I have not been without battle.
Bitter affliction was frequent
Between me and my cousins.
Frequent trials fell
Between me and my fellow-countrymen.
There was frequent contention
Between me and the wretched.
Those that placed me on the cross
I knew when young.
That drove me on the tree,
My head hung down.
Stretched were my two feet,
So sad their destiny.
Stretched with extreme pain
The bones of my feet.
Stretched were my two arms,
Their burden will not be.
Stretched were my two shoulders,
So diligently it was done.
Stretched were the nails,
Within my heart.
Stretched was the spiking,
Between my two eyes.
Thick are the holes
Of the crown of thorns in my head.
The lance was struck
And my side was pierced.
It will be struck to you also,
As your right hand (struck me).
To you there will be no forgiveness,
For piercing me with spears.
And the Ruler we knew not
When thou wert hung.
Ruler of heaven, Ruler of every people!
We knew not, O Christ! that it was thou.
If we had known thee,
Christ, we should have refrained from thee.

Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
Ye have committed wickedness
Against the Creator.
A hundred thousand angels
Are to me witnesses,
Who came to conduct me
After my hanging,
When hanging cruelly,
Myself to deliver me
In heaven there was trembling
When I had been hung.
When I cried out Eli!
Do not the brave know
The greatness of their progeny?
A country present will meet thee,
And while it may possibly be yours,
Three hundred thousand years save one,
A short hour of the day of everlasting life.

But. But. I want to know…

JMJ

The Readings for Tuesday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Unde hoc sciam? 
Whereby shall I know this?
John is the last prophet. There are no prophets after John the Baptist because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophets. God needs no other voice because God has spoken finally and that word is Jesus.

An Angel is sent to Zacharia with this news, and the same Angel is sent to Mary. Both of them are surprised. Zachary, in asking how can I know, though is all of us. He uses the same word for “know” as Mary does, to the same Angel, really. 

How shall I know this… 
I have not known a man…
And it is the same word used in the Greek LXX text of the Old Testament:
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
In all these instances it means exactly the same thing: Experience; deep, intimate experience.
This is difference between Zachary and Maria.
Mary says how can this be, for I have no knowledge of these things…
Zach says how can I come to know this: how can I believe you…
This is our age, right? Most of us, I think, tend towards Zachary. We want not only to know… but to know how to know, to know how we can trust someone before we get suckered into their game. We don’t want to be hoodwinked, taken for fools, left with everyone laughing at us.
What if Zach had come running out of that temple with news of an angel and, nine months later, nothing? For the rest of his (already long life) he’d be the guy that sees fake angels with wish fulfillment promises, and a barren wife. How can I know this? Ya, sure, you’re making promises and you fly out of here and nine months from now how can I get a refund if this all goes bust?
Mary says, “Tell me how this is happening for I know nothing of these things.”
Zacharia says, “Show me now.”
It is often said that we live in an age of doubt. But this is not true. We live in an age of intense faith.  It is misplaced and misidentified, but it is a strong faith. We believe things we read on the internet strongly and deeply. Worse, we believe headlines without reading the stories. We like posts based on header photos and we don’t even read the stuff (or the headlines). We pay no attention to the other side of any argument, believing instead what our side says about the other side. We reject religious leaders and yet follow other leaders who use religious words. (Listen to a scientist talk about not needing religion or philosophy using the words of religion and philosophy.) We praise political leaders in the way we once followed religious teachers and we dare not question them in exactly the same way; or, if I can question my leader, you certainly cannot.
We live in an age of great faith. We are surrounded by not the “nones” of surveys, but rather the “followers of anything but Christ”. I claim to follow science only, but I will deny the proofs of science if I don’t like them, or don’t “feel” them.

We want to know. We want to experience. But we don’t want to have faith.

And yet faith is required first. Always. I can’t experience God without first trusting him to be there (even if only a tiny bit). And Faith is a gift of God’s prevenient grace. Even that requires our cooperation, our leaning in to that grace. God won’t zap us with faith, but he whispers it to us if we unstop our ears. We can, without compulsion, sing along with the music already playing.

So, which will it be: Mary or Zacharia? Honestly both of them got what God promised, but one got a bit more. Both are saints, but Mary’s silent faith speaks volumes more than Zachary’s mute challenge.

How can we know?
Trust first.

Is God’s Navel an Inney or an Outey?

JMJ

The Readings for Monday 3 Advent (Year 2):

Hoc autem totum factum est, ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per prophetam dicentem: Ecce virgo in utero habebit, et pariet filium: et vocabunt nomen ejus Emmanuel, quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus.
Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
A lot of Christians get this one wrong. Some, today, claim to be Christians and still deny it outright. The idea that Jesus is God is scary to them. Jesus can be the Rabbi God Acts Through and he’ll stop making the rest of us nervous. They want a good teacher: the morals are universal so we can reject the ones we don’t like. The politics are awesome when they are read by left-wingers. Yet they do not realise that without his Divinity, Jesus’ social teaching is a bit of a moot point.
If this man was not God then he’s only offering a different social order: it’s just more counter-revolution. It might as well be only another moral code and a repetition of the Pharisees or the Pythagoreans. Sure, it’s different. But it’s just more. I might just as well be hung up on eating pork or on praying to cows. If it’s just more religion, it’s unimportant. But Jesus is the cure for religion as the Orthodox teach and they say it without irony which makes it all the more funny.
It is entirely possible to read Christian history in the secular, boring way – devoid of any theology or traditional Christian moralism. I want to point that out, to allow it as a (wrong) way to read the tradition. Still there are much deeper socio-political implications to this “God-acting” idea (rather than God-acting-through). I do, personally, believe all the points of the Nicene Creed, the Symbol or the summing up of the Catholic faith. Firma fide credo et confiteor omnia et singula quae sancta ecclesia Catholica proponit. The Christian rabbinic discussion has evolved well beyond that level of simplicity. But it starts here, with this revolution.
Here’s the most important, radical, revolutionary thing about Christianity: God has a navel. I don’t know if it was an “inney” or an “outey”, but he has one. More than that, he’s got a penis: and God is a he. In fact, God is one specific man, born in one specific place, among one specific people – although in a melting pot of about many cultures. Surrounding God was Egyptian, Roman, Alexandrian (Ptolemaic), Silk Road, Persian, Fertile Crescent Babylonian, and 5 or 6 culture groupings called themselves “Jewish” or “Hebrew” and disagreed with each other about that status.
More than that, God had diapers. God also probably ran around half-naked urinating and defecating on the ground while adults might have looked and giggled in either embarrassment or parental joy as the child grew up. God had a neighbourhood. God had an older half-brother – and therefore probably suffered from some bullying and maybe even fights like, “Dad loved my mother more than yours.” God had grandparents who spoiled him. God had a mother who doted on him. God had a Dad who – according to one version – was not too highly respected in his community (as a man who worked with his hands). According to another version God’s dad was quite well respected and well off. God went through puberty and, I have no doubt, suffered from embarrassing erections under his robe, girls flirted with him, and his voice cracked. God had acne and, after a while, back hair.
And for all of this I love him even more, just in the writing of it.
This is the logical outcome of the Christian conclusion that in Jesus, God-actually was with us in a very specific way over and above just being a prophet. If I say – with Paul – that in Jesus the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell, well then, the fullness of the Godhead liked (or didn’t like) to eat the lentils his mom cooked. The fullness of the Godhead liked (or didn’t like) to drink goat’s milk. The fullness of the Godhead liked (or didn’t like) to go to Torah school. The exact implication of “the fullness of the Godhead” is that God had a specific colour of hair, of eye, a specific tone of voice, a specific sort of body odour, and even a certain, rustic lack of bathing.
And for all of this I love him even more, just in the writing of it.
This is where Judaism and Islam – emphasising God’s transcendence – and Christianity part ways. This is where the pious pagans of the first two centuries part the ways with the Christian community. This idea of the fullness of the Godhead being pleased to dwell in a backwoods, country preacher is a scandal. It is foolishness. It is a horror for Jews or Muslims today or Jews and Romans back then to contemplate this idea: not that God dwelt with us but rather that God was “dwelling” here, in this man. Certainly all religions teach the former concept in one way or another. The latter concept is unheard of in monotheistic traditions and the incarnational idea – fully God and fully Man – is not present in any other religious tradition.
As he grew up, God stopped relieving himself on the ground and, eventually, grew to – like the rest of his culture – learn how to wipe his dirty butt with his left hand. You cannot cause that sentence to have any proper meaning in either Jewish or Muslim theology – wiping God’s but with God’s hand will make no sense. You’d have a great deal of trouble having that make sense in any theology outside of the Church, although, as I say, a lot of Christians get this wrong, too.
I was listening to a very conservative preacher and seminary professor from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod who kept assuming that Jesus’ Divinity meant his status as “Son of God.” Jesus’ divinity is related to his status as “God the Son” which is not the same as “Son of God”. The people calling Jesus the “Son of God” in the Bible are not calling him “God the Son”. These are two very different issues.
Others seem to confuse claims of Jesus’ divinity with issues like “virgin birth”, miracles or even Resurrection. The most extreme view seems to forget that Jesus was a mortal man as well as God. These people seem to confuse a lot of perfectly normal human realities with sin: I can imagine God hitting puberty and getting erections. Even some Christians would be shocked at that idea – assuming that erections, per se, are not “natural”. Some Christians write huge swaths of theology to imagine Jesus as somehow not normal. Among these stories are some telling that he just magically appeared next to his mother rather than passing in blood and water (and pain) through the birth canal. Some Romans (including clergy) go so far as to imply that it is sin that causes such pain – and then they write the sin out of Jesus and out of his Mother – ergo there was no pain. These uber pious sorts say that to teach Mary cried out in childbirth is to deny that Jesus’ divinity.
There are Christian traditions that are quite to the contrary: One day, after visiting my upstate parish for Confirmations (he had confirmed my own sister, actually) the Episcopal Suffragan of New York, Walter Denis, gave me a ride back to NYC. I was attending NYU at the time. At one point during the two hour ride he said to me, “The Word became flesh, Anglicans wallow in it.” The traditional, incarnational theology of Anglicans cannot forget that Jesus was both, God and Man although sadly, today, they sometimes forget that he was God. I love him all the more because he had the same birth trauma. If he were born today he’d have the same red birthmarks many of us have from where the forceps pinched us.
God has a mother: Mary. Her Greek Title is “Theotokos” and her Slavonic title is “Bogoroditsa”. Her Latin title is “Dei Genetrix” and they all mean the same thing “Birthgiver of God”. It parallels “Mother of God” but it means exactly what I’ve been saying here. Mary is the person through whose birth canal (in pain, blood and water) God passed. She is called the one whose womb is “more spacious than the heavens”. Having pointed out the importance of Jesus’ divinity, Mary underscores his humanity. Nothing I say above – navels, acne, puberty, etc – is possible without his mother. And his mother is unimportant without his divinity.
In later years the Church would debate (and split) over issues raised by this idea of the “fullness of Godhead” dwelling in Jesus. They would debate how much was God, when did he know? Could he sin? Did he sin? Can God sin? Can God think of sin? Could he will to sin? Did he have two wills? Two natures? What?
All of that seems unimportant to me – although I flatter myself by saying I understand the reasons behind each choice the Church made. These later decisions seem to hyper-define the mystery of it all. It seems much more important to me that God had a navel than that Jesus had two perfect wills. It seems to me more important that God had acne than to wonder over adoptionism or whatnot.
What is most important in all this seeming scandal and theological debate is never to forget that God has done these lowly, fleshly things that we all do. These things have been done by God. Thus these are not “lowly, fleshly things” any more. From birth canal, through puberty and the horrors of middle age and death: this is the path of God. These things, from breast feeding to birthday breakfasts, from loving caresses to mourning for dead friends, from fear and doubt to triumphal joy are all tools of divine action in the world, and in our salvation – our making whole.
St John’s Gospel says, “The Word became Flesh”: God having diapers. The earliest communities came to this discussion over the Eucharist, recounting their memories of Jesus, sharing his teachings and experiencing anew his presence in the breaking of bread and in the fellowship around the table. It’s one thing to say God has become Man and overthrown the social order. It’s a second step to process out what that might imply about God having a navel. The third step in this process is summed up in this line from St. Gregory Nazianzus “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved”. (Remember, “healed” and “saved” are the same word in Greek…) Certainly: this is not in particulars. Jesus was a man – not a woman. This doesn’t mean women are not saved (although some have tried to argue it so). What it does mean is that there is nothing impure in humanity of itself. Yes, there are impurities which we pickup as we go along. But Jesus as God-Man is a sign that simply being “anthropos” is not bad. It’s good in and of itself.
This is a scandal to modern liberal theologians: because they want a God so abstract as to be shared by everyone. There can be nothing about this abstract deity that might offend anyone. The idea of a God wrapped in dirty rags and laying in a feeding trough is terribly annoying to those religions that focus on God’s transcendence. They remove Jesus-as-God from the picture but thus they also remove our salvation. Their God is awesome and fearful. Jesus-as-God knows unemployment, political oppression and family breakdown. Jesus heard gossip when his mom was washing clothes. Jesus saw people spit on each other and heard hatred spoken clearly. God’s been here. This is the path of God. Or we’re doomed. The vacuous deity of liberalism and the transcendent deity of Islam or Judaism are both incomplete, missing the ability to enter into our space and experience a day in kitchen or the bedroom. They are unable to save.
As a result of over-emphasising the transcendence, both uber-liberalism and any ultra traditionalist monotheism can tend towards the gnostic heresy of hating the body not for its sins but because it is a body. In doing so, in casting the body as “other”, many enter into a false dichotomy, splitting the physical from the spiritual and making the physical to be only bad.  And therefore strangely attractive.  Perverted, but attractive.  If you have trouble understanding this, imagine the traditional WASPy ideas about the sexuality of Blacks and Hispanics. Those things that we put down, we also make “dirty” (in a racy, libidinous way). The world is dirty. And all dirty things stick together. So we try to stay away. In an older era this meant Jazz or Rock and Roll. It’s also hip-hop and “gangsta” fashion. It’s all a race-based form of “the world is dirty but we must be pure.”  And at the same time we make fetishes of the libidos of the dirty.  Adult bookstores are filled with “interracial” sections where “the other” is brought in to dominate or be dominated, where “good white girls” are subjected to “horror” from “them”.
To deny the body is to create a culture of nihilism that insists we’re free of the body’s limits.  Piercings, body mutilations (cutting off fingers or splitting the tongue) and immodest clothing are all part of the same corruption – and eroticism – of the flesh.
To be certain, we see this exclusion problem in Christian communities too: this is why I said, above, that Christians still get this one wrong. As Father Joseph offers in a sermon I first heard him preach a decade or more ago:

The pendulum may swing otherwise. You’ve seen them: the “Orthodox Taliban.” The man grows long hair and beard, forgets how to smile. The woman covers herself from head to toe — her modesty smothers her dignity. [aka, the “ortho-burqa” – DHR] They both stop bathing. There’s no visible joy in their life. Their wrists are covered with wool knots. They eat only broccoli; tofu is reserved for feast days. They begin shopping for a home — preferably a tent or a lean-to — out in the woods, sans the burden of electricity. These things may not be harmful in and of themselves. Yet oftentimes, when Converts confuse such “asceticism” with Orthodoxy, it can have dire results.
Orthodoxy in Dixie

The all the talibans of the world – no matter what religion – make seeing an ankle out to be erotic.  It’s easy to be scandalized (and titillated) when everything needs covering up because it’s evil.  Remember St Gregory of Nazianzus: “That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved”. That which is united to God… In Jesus, that is not only the “fullness of Godhead” but also the “fullness of humanity”.
Anything that is fully human – including all the things we don’t like such as body odour, farts, morning erections, monthly cycles, hormones – anything like that is assumed into the Godhead. It matters not if one is a Jew or a Gentile, a man or a woman. It matters not if one is of any “lower class” or in any way broken.
This is God with us. This is salvation.

It’s Better Than the Alternative

JMJ


The Readings for Sunday 3 Advent (Year B):
Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo, quia induit me vestimentis salutis, et indumento justitiæ circumdedit me, quasi sponsum decoratum corona, et quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation: and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bridegroom decked with a crown, and as a bride adorned with her jewels.

There’s so much rejoicing in today’s readings! It’s the theme of the Sunday: Gaudete Sunday. It’s why things are pink today, rather than purple, which is the new thing, actually. Let’s have some geekery!

In the old days the color of penance was not purple, but rather “Lenten Array”, a sort of unbleached linen or wool that may have had red and black decorations attached to it but, over all, penance was the absence of color. Lent hid all the festivities behind a wall of bland. In a culture without TV or much theatre, the High Mass on Sunday was the entertainment. Hiding the color was bad. In that Advent is a penitential season mixed with joy, the Masses of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Advent were, in fact, Lenten masses. Sunday, however, was another thing entirely.

The Catholic Encyclopedia adds, “Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) states that black was the colour to be used during Advent, but violet had already come into use for this season at the end of the thirteenth century. Binterim says that there was also a law that pictures should be covered during Advent. Flowers and relics of Saints are not to be placed on the altars during the Office and Masses of this time, except on the third Sunday; and the same prohibition and exception exist in regard to the use of the organ.”

The Sundays of Advent were colored differently in different places: In England, for example, they are blue. This is the Sarum usage and may reflect Sarum’s link with the East where, as in Sarum, this is the color of Marian feasts.

But Rome and Sarum both have this Sunday as Pink – or a richer purple. It is common today to refer to a color called “rose” which seems a species of preciousness and even homophobia rising from our very modern idea that “pink is for girls.” Rose is a shade of pink, ergo the vestments are pink.

Keeping it in the pink is a colloquialism for healthy. On Caucasians, at least, it’s better than having no color at all, and not quite the purple of a bruise, or the red of exhaustion. It’s the pink of healthy.

Health – as we are remembering now – is not just a matter of a well-oiled machine working as planned. We are not healthy at all when we are dis-eased by anything in our life. And, since I am a walking Essay on Anxiety, I get it. The constant battering of emotions, the stirring pains of what if, the shock and horror of “they saw me.” I hardly get through a day without realizing that someone hates me and wants to fire me. Most days I’m happy to get home, to see my cat and to hide. I am, in fact, hiding now. This week has been overwhelming and the inability to get my writing done in a timely fashion (this essay is late) has resulted in a slow down-spiral of, if you will, emotional debt. I feel like the person in the well, digging deeper in an effort to get out.

I am not in the pink. And then there are today’s readings.

Isaiah says “induit me vestimentis salutis, et indumento justitiæ circumdedit me” speaking of garments of salvation and a robe of justice. The reading is reminiscent of both Our Lord, in his moment of self-revelation in the Nazareth Synagogue, and also of Our Lady’s Magnificat. Like mother, like Son! And yet it is a reminder that we, too, are so clothed. We, too, are so wrapped. So we, too, should be joyful in God and sing his praise.

In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians (5:16-18), St Paul opens out this mystery by a tripartite command:
Semper gaudete.
Sine intermissione orate.
In omnibus gratias agite.

The Latin obscures it a little, but the Greek is clear as day: ἐν παντὶ εὐχαριστεῖτε. en panti eucharisteite. In all things, do Eucharist. It’s a command: Present, Imperative, Active. Do this thing now (and it’s always now). Yes, I know, it say “Make thanksgiving” but we’re Catholics. En Panti Eucharisteite means just what it says, In all things celebrate Eucharist. The commands make sense now, really, “Always rejoice, never stop praying, and make everything into Eucharist.”

I thought of this Friday, walking to work in a funk. And I pulled out the Akathist, Glory to God for All Things, to sing my way around it. (It kinda worked.)

The thing is we are to make thanksgiving for all things.

Think about that. En Panti. All things.

How many things in your day today, have been worthy of Thanking God? How many did you remember to do so for? We are to thank God for everything. The hymn was written in a marxist gulag.

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus dost Thou, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Thy blinding light, how drab, how colourless, how illusory all else seems. My souls clings to Thee.

We are to give thanks for everything. St Nikolai of Zica even blesses God for his enemies.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

I’ve only just gotten around to figuring out how to bless God for the layoffs two years ago next month. How different would this all have been if I had been able to say Thank You in that moment of time instead of running in fear as I did?

We must learn faith. For no matter how chaotic it is, no matter how painful it is, no matter what level of suck we reach, this is all for our salvation, if we will but give thanks, make Eucharist in all things.

The dark storm clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Thy fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence: Alleluia!

Yes, I know there are drugs that help us function in spite of Anxiety. But that only schools us in taking drugs. What are we to learn in giving thanks for even the fear that cripples us sometime?

Christ has walked this road before us, crippled with fear in the garden, and sweating drops of blood. The pains of this world have become the healing salve that will bring us home. The world is the same, the map is the same, the wiring has been undone, the code has been hacked: the outcome is different.

In good and bad, thanksgiving.
In joy and pain, thanksgiving.
In sorrow and bliss, thanksgiving.
In loss and gain, thanksgiving.
This world, this pain, this loss, this fear: this is our salvation.
Rise up on the wings of grace.
Always rejoice.
Pray without ceasing,
And make Eucharist always.

That way you’ll keep it in the pink.