A Still Unknown God

Today’s readings:

  • Song of Solomon 2:8-14
  • Luke 1:39-45

In the Douay, the RSV, or in the NABRE with other Mass texts.

O Oriens,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dayspring splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

For some curious reason the Alleluia in our daily Mass text is not based on this Antiphon, which is (as proper) sung nevertheless tonight at Vespers. So we’ll stick with it.

I noted yesterday that these two antiphons were of a pair: about being freed from darkness and brought into the light. It is fitting that they should be read on either side of the Winter Solstice, the Longest Night, the night the sun traditionally “returns”. As that sun returns the texts celebrates the real return, the real sunrise: the Sun of Justice, Jesus, dawning on his people.

Yesterday I pointed out our self-imposed entrapment in darkness. Even though the Sun rises on us, we clamp our eyes shut to pretend we are not illuminated.

If we were to open our eyes, what would we see?

Jesus is the Omega point towards which all of history constantly tends. If we were to see it clearly, we’d understand that, of course Jesus was born at the Winter Solstice. Naturally he dies at the Spring Equinox. Of course his mother is named for the Seas. Nature is the first Gospel we have, written in signs and regular processions of events. Those cultures that came closest to the natural order were ready for Christ. It is said the Celts converted easily because Jesus’ Gospel made sense to the Druids once it was explained. Yet not only those who “worshipped nature” but also the pagans of Greece and Rome, the Taoists of China, the Shintoists of Japan, the peoples of India, Central and South America all heard in the Gospel some reality that was prefigured in their faith.

The Jews were prepared to bring forth Messiah and all peoples were prepared to receive him. The light dawns in the East and it covers all the world.

So, for us in our darkness. What is this to us?

As it was in the time of the Apostles so it is for us now. Having received it freely, we are called to freely spread the light. Think of Paul in the Marketplace of Athens, talking to the people who worship “the unknown God”. Paul was able to find a seed of truth in that Athenian temple from which he could grow a Gospel sermon. How do we do that today? Do you know how to address someone with the Gospel starting from where they are, lost in idolatry, in magic, in sex, in politics? Can you preach the Gospel using words crafted by Oprah, Ouija, or Oral Roberts? Who is the evangelist for the Black, the Grey, or the Pink Panthers? Can you bring the light into the darkness that we have today? Who will go to the people of the Gamers or the Goths? Can you bring Christ to those lost in the New Age, or in the tired old teachings of Spong or Tyson? Do you know the Gospel for the internet- or porn- addicted? Who will find the abortionists and suicide doctors? Can you preach to those trapped in racism and hate? How can you bring Jesus to those whom you do not love?

The Dayspring from on high is come to give us the light to reach the world today, to enlighten those trapped in darkness and death. In what function will we shine this light? If we are freed who were trapped in prisons of our own making, what can we do for those around us still enslaved?

The Cloud of Unwilling to be Told

Today’s Readings:

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Luke 1:26-38

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts.

O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!

The full text of the Antiphon is:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

It’s very hard to read something about keys and not think about heaven and hell, and indeed we have that here: Messiah unlocking hell, and bringing souls to heaven. Freeing us from death and bringing us to life. This Antiphon is one of a pair (with tomorrow’s) speaking of darkness and light. I shall take the liberty of reading this one as more concerned with darkness since tomorrow we think about the Dawn (Oriens).

Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” 

What is our darkness? I’ve pointed snarkily at it several times in the recent course of these posts: we love the idea of God but we reject any God who dares speak.

We have a two-thousand year tradition, and some want to imagine that they can toss it out because of modern “gender” politics; a 4000 year old morality (that is widely accepted around the world in various traditions) and people want to toss it out because sex is fun. All that’s fine, if you want to play by your own rules, sure. But if you want to follow the God with the keys of heaven and hell, he’s already told you what to do. We are blessed to have a God that speaks clearly through his Church – as he promised he would – and most of us want to pretend God is only mute now, and never spoke before, or, if he did, it was only good for a short time. We have erected an artificial cloud of unknowing that keeps us in our own self-enforced darkness. We say in our pretend piety that excuses our sins, we dare not lie about God by using outdated ideas. Yet we dare to lie about God using our own modern lies that are only as new as Diagoras of Melos and Heraclitus.

In our false piety we claim to be really following God because we won’t let dead people put words in God’s mouth – when, in fact, it was he putting words in theirs. We won’t let old rituals keep God in a box, when, in fact, he inspired both the text and the rubrics to help us follow him. We won’t let ancient cultures rule ours, when, in fact, he ruled them – and would rule us as well. But we don’t like kings. We have blinded God by locking our eyes shut, we have silenced God by destroying our ears, we have killed God by ending life as we know it. We have ended His story only by insisting that history is meaningless and that all events are disconnected; that life just ends and stops. Today things are different, we say, as we turn out all the lights, and clang the prison doors shut behind us. We’re safe in here. He can’t come and get us. We’re safe, we say, from God in the Prison Satan has built for us, deluding us into imagining we want to be here.

I’ve heard the Resurrection joyfully denied at Easter, the Virgin Birth merrily denied at Christmas, the Divinity of Christ piously denied from the pulpit, the Second Coming of Christ denied on Good Friday – all by people who say they are Christians. I have no idea what the point even is any more, in that idea of “religion” except to damn souls to hell.

They have returned to what the world is: our mission field. Darkness waiting to be illumined.

Jesus comes with the Keys to unlock what can never be locked again. And to lock up what can never be unlocked. When we turn to him, he can free our minds from the prison we have built from bricks that we have baked using clay and straw we ourselves have gathered. And with Jesus – only – we can free the world.

The Great Scandal

Today’s readings:

  • Judges 13:2-7, 24-25A
  • Luke 1:5-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Radix Jesse, stans in signum populorum: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Alleluia verse

Again, the Alleluia verse today is a condensed version of the text used with the Magnificat in Vespers:

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

The Christmas Carol, “Lo how a rose e’er blooming” can make this whole Radix Jesse  seem rather pastoral, floral, and Victorian.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God’s love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

It is theologically sound, but I think it paints the wrong picture. Several times this Advent I’ve heard some idea of Mary having an “unplanned pregnancy”. I know what’s up – people are preaching against abortion and they are to be lauded in this – but the idea that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy is so far from the truth, so alien, as to be 100% wrong.

The Gospel of the Ancestry of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-25 was read on Saturday in the Roman Rite and on Sunday in the Byzantine Rite. That tongue-twisting text contains three surprises: Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is held by some scholars that this text describes the actual lineage of Joseph who was thought to be Jesus’ father. (The different tracing in Luke is thought to be of Mary.) So, of course, this is not a lineage by blood – for Joseph had no part in Mary’s childbearing. Yet this lineage, cited by St Matthew’s Community, contains a two – or maybe three – Gentile women, with one being a prostitute and another an adulteress.

This parallels well other of St Matthew’s texts which might be read as surprising – if not downright scandalous – to his community. He’s got a Centurion and his “boy”, gentiles, sinners… At the end of the Gospel (28:17) he even commissions people who doubt him to preach his gospel! I think that’s amazing, given what we think about how the Gospels were written: a collection of sacred stories remembered in a given Community and codified and written down for use in that community. When something is (assumedly) shocking to the community and yet included in the text, then, we think it more likely to be true. Your Messiah had as ancestors a prostitute, an adulteress and, at least, two (maybe three) gentiles.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

Jesus was not exactly reputable. Kings will fall silent in his presence, this son of a prostitute, adultery, gentiles, and a Virgin. See? God can work it out. He really can. The Lineage of David may be a mess, but God can work it out. It’s not an unplanned pregnancy, in fact, it’s very planned. Very planned, indeed.

In his sermon on Sunday, Fr Hurley suggested that we may be guilty of not letting God’s dream for us come to fruition. In the end, we may be so concerned with things looking right, with things being “just so” that we may miss the reality God has for us: as St Joseph was considering “putting Mary away quietly” to avoid a scandal when he found out she was pregnant. Yet Joseph heard God’s call and answered. What’s for us?

Jesus is, by all standards today, a bit of a hot mess: too liberal for the conservatives, with his willingness to eat with sinners and to party with tax collectors; and too conservative for the liberals (because, “go and sin no more is about all the condemnation anyone can take today). He’s born in poverty, and really doesn’t hang out with the right sort of people. He doesn’t care what your opinions are – he wants you to do things, to give away all you have, to love people. If we want it to be “normal” we’re going to miss out on the things God has for us. We can be like Joseph, but instead of hiding Mary “to protect ‘her’ from scandal” (ie, to protect Joseph from scandal) we’re going to protect us from scandal by hiding the real Jesus.

Matthew keeps his reading community on the edge of their seats and kings will shut their mouths – because this entirely unsuitable being, fathered by smelly sheepherders and unsavory women – is God. So, there’s hope for us – you and I – who mostly fall between Prostitutes and Kings on the social spectrum. There’s hope.

“Gasp,” say all the old ladies.
“Praise the Lord,” say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, “Amen.”
And everyone worships the Lord together.

How unbelievably awesome is that? How glorious is our God that lifts up even the bourgeoisie among sinners by going even lower than us to raise us all together.

The Same God.

Today’s readings: 

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Romans 1:1-7
  • Matthew 1:18-24

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in bracchio extento. 
Alleluia Verse for 18 Dec

I’m cheating a little and leading with the verse for the Date instead on on something from the 4th Sunday in Advent. The verse (as it will be for much of the week) is a condensed version of the text from Vespers.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstreched arm.

This is the same God. There are some who want to imagine sort of a judgy God in the Old Testament and then Jesus now. Some don’t want to go so far as to say Jesus is God, mind you, but he’s certainly better than the judgy God in the older parts of the Bible. They miss the point. This is the same God.

This is from a letter written by Pope St Leo the Great (reg. 440-461 AD) it was part of the Office of Readings for yesterday in the Roman Rite:

No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him. 

It was the pre-eternal Son of God walking the Garden with Adam, Feasting with Abraham, rescuing Lot, wrestling with Jacob. It was the hand of the Son of God inscribing the law on the Tablets for Moses and on the wall in the King’s palace for Daniel to read. It was the Word of God, not yet come as Messiah, who created the world and all that is in it, and he who spoke from the burning bush.

And it was he who rained fire on Sodom, who drowned the Egyptians, who destroyed the Prophets of Baal – all for their injustices (not sex, or idolatry, per se, although these are also injustices).

We don’t like some of these stories, so we decide they are culturally biased. We ignore them because they “must be untrue”. Yet, we don’t get to pick and choose – otherwise we miss out on the revelation of holiness at Christmas. It’s important that it is the whole Word of God that comes to us, not just some a la carte of some of him that we like (ignoring the parts we don’t like). We are like Ahaz in today’s first lesson: who says in pretend piety, “I will not tempt the Lord!” Even though God has told him to ask! Ahaz won’t ask, mostly because he’s afraid there will be an answer. We don’t want there to be a God who can reveal stuff to us because we’re afraid he might actually, you know, reveal stuff. So we say there is no God of Revelation, and that he has never spoke… we silence him in our pride.

Either God has revealed himself in our Sacred History or he has not. I’m OK with one or the other on your part, but don’t say you get to pick and choose. You get the package or you don’t get it: you’re on another path. Me too. If God can reveal himself, then we don’t get to decide which parts we don’t like. (Eg: Why is God the only person who can’t pick his own pronouns?)

This is the same God. Jesus as leader of the house of Israel means, of course, that the Church is Israel: and we have to remember what Israel means. “He who wrestles with God.” That doesn’t mean that we win, that we get to change God’s mind or God’s laws, but it acknowledges that we struggle. And that God knows that we do. We are on a wrestling team doomed to fail in our contest: and fated to be blessed by the submission we make to our opponent.

The Doctor knows you don’t want to be here. But you’re here. Let’s make you healthy.

As noted yesterday, our freedom lies in our ability to conform fully to the nature God has given us. That means that the things that are against nature might be fun, but they are leading us away – not towards – God. The Burning Bush calls us forward, gently: it’s pretty! Yet it issues commands as we get closer. Then it gives us hella awkward instructions. Sometimes, we can banter (send my brother, God) but in the end, the commands are for our good and the good of all God’s church. So we have to follow them. We don’t get the beauty without the true and the good. God defines all three.

At Christmas, the same God comes to us as one of us. Are we ready?

Yeah, that Streetcar.

Today’s Readings:

  • Genesis 49:2, 8-10 
  • Matthew 1:1-17 

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts

Sapientia Altissimi, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentire. The Alleluia Verse

Today’s Alleluia Verse is a condensed version of tonight’s Antiphon on the Magnificat (sung at Vespers on the 17th for both Catholic and Orthodox users of the Western Liturgy). That text in full is:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister. Our family was Methodist. I’ve no idea what the Methodist “Ordination Process” was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of “lunch with the Bishop.” If the meeting ended with “you’re a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?” You were on you way. That lunch would not happen for me until late in High School when I was Episcopalian, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the “Youth Sunday” Sermon. Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA. But somehow, 40 years later, I’m not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood. I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained two Summers ago and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there. She used the words “Sacrifice” and “Integrity”. These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life’s journey.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom – Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek – is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers. But what is Prudence? It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice. By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well. Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can’t get the others without it. What is “correct action”?

In Catholic and Orthodox understanding of the human person man’s natural state of being, his φύσις or phusis is according to God’s plan for his life. In this natural state – that state “according to our nature”, the nature God intended for us – man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature. Our failures are because we are imprudent. We can make a given choice based on other things: and so our choices are then against nature, παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means “to the side” of nature. We’re missing the mark. We’re off to the side. Again, that nature is the one God made for us: and all human nature is, shall we say, slightly dented. Some settling has occurred in transit. We’re not measuring up to the serving suggestions on the box.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities and men pretending to be women or vice versa. Our answer to that charge, today, is usually “Yes, but this is my nature. Paul had no idea about my nature. For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature.” To this individualistic claim, the Alleluia verse, the Antiphon, and Christmas itself is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature. Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there are many persons in One Humanity. In the Incarnation at Christmas that one Divinity became One of Us, part of the One Humanity, and so the natures are joined. There is no “my” nature: there’s just nature. “Your” nature is no different from “mine” save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence – of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but rather on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. We cannot have different natures, different odd quirks or we are not saved because Jesus is not one with us, just another guy.

Human freedom granted us by God lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want (which is properly called license), but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God’s plan – not our own. That’s the only choice: God’s way or the low way. When we choose otherwise we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body’s cravings, our appetites, our sins, our lusts, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say. When we convince ourselves that This thing in me contrary to God’s plan is really who I am we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature. We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it – and insisting that it’s a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails. How many people will die?

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go. We want her to include our lives in that “all things mightily and sweetly” dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave. As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the prudent choices, to have right action, become fully human (like Christ); the first step to becoming divine. We are becoming suave and debonair, that last meaning “meek and humble,” not well-dressed. See what our passions do to even the meanings of words?

To get right action again – after we’ve jumped the rails – requires a metanoia, often translated as “changed mind” or “repentance”, as in “If you sin, you must repent”. But it’s not just a “changed mind” but “beyond mind”. We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about “who I really am”. Christmas is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance. God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, where phusis is properly understood as a divine revelation. My choices caused me and others some temporary happiness, but I cannot say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in fifth grade. Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be. They led to what is called “False Consolations”. I’m not me, I’m a false me, a me created by sins and illness.

A return to the confessional. A return to the Nature God gave me. A return to life. This is the way by to hitting the mark, the path of Prudence.


Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Luke 7:24-30

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Et omnis populus audiens et publicani, justificaverunt Deum, baptizati baptismo Joannis. Pharisaei autem et legisperiti consilium Dei spreverunt in semetipsos, non baptizati ab eo.
And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with John’s baptism. But the Pharisees and the lawyers despised the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him.
Luke 7:29-30

…all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God… It’s such a curious phrase, no?  It is not a wonky translation in the Douay, many of the extant English versions render this phrase in Luke 7:29 as some version of the people “justified God.” The Greek word is ἐδικαίωσαν and it means “I declare righteous”.  In other words, the Bible is saying that the masses of people Baptized by John said that God was justified in his condemnation of those very people. On the other hand, the Pharisees “despised the counsel of God against themselves.” Imagine coming to court and saying to the Judge, “My accuser is correct.”  That’s what’s happening here.

It comes up in another place, in the Old Testament: in Psalm 50 (or 51, New Style).  In Verse 4 (or Verse 6, if you’re counting like in the LXX) the holy Prophet David pictures God in a court case and says, “that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged.”  The word rendered “Justified” is the same Greek word we have in the Gospel today. It’s represented by the same word in Latin as well.  A lot of translations, however, dodget this one – try to make it sound like “When God judges, he’s right” rather than “when we look at God’s actions, we see he’s right.”

See, in the abstract, it’s ok to say, “God’s right”. Everyone says that – even, really, the demons say that.  It’s really hard to say, “From where I am in my life, I can see you’re right, God.” Do you see the difference? The beginning of repentance may be the realization that “Something’s wrong here.” But when you look around, when you investigate all the options, the second step in repentance has to be saying, “God’s right.” We cannot fully acknowledge that we have missed the mark until we first admit that there is mark to miss. All else is just a show. Before you can say, “My life is unmanageable” you have to know what a rightly managed life looks like and you have to admit that that other option is way better than the one you have so recently been taking.

The Pharisees, be they the ancient Jewish legal sort, the modern political activist sort, the classic capitalist short, or whatever other sort there may be are all quite happy with saying, “God’s right” but they don’t want God to speak: they will deny his revelation. If someone else should point out the revelation of God, they have a good excuse. We can ignore that because we know XYZ to be the case now, and we know so much better than this God person. We can ignore what he says about life because this isn’t a life growing in me, it is a lump of tissue. We can ignore what he says about loving your brother because that’s an oppressor (capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobe, nazit, trupist, clintonista, abortionist, rigid traditionalist, whateverist). We can ignore what he says about sex because Freud. We can ignore what he says about welcoming the stranger because they’re Muslims. We can ignore what he says about loving your enemy because 9/11.Pharisees always have a reason to ignore God. They even make up stories about how they can argue better than God. And, boy, didn’t they get one over on him then?

It’s really important to ask oneself where one stands with God. If the answer is not “prostrate before him begging mercy” one is standing in the wrong place, I think.

Before you get there, you have to admit God is the right person to judge you.

He didn’t make those.

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25
  • Luke 7:18B-23

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans malum.
I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil.
Isaiah 45:7

I struggled with this verse, sitting and wondering what it could mean, for clearly the English and the Latin both say God creates evil and that cannot be. So chewing upon it for a while I opted to look closer into the earlier text and, in the Greek LXX, as well as in the Hebrew it says God creates evil. Yet in that last, having a better interlinear text, a few things were gleaned. The Hebrew uses an adjective, not a noun. Ra “Evil” is an adjective without an complement. It’s like saying “God didn’t make little green” and leaving off the “apples”. So the Hebrew dictionary offers a secondary reading of “Adversity”.

Then, coming forward, the Greek, kaka, is also an adjective, as is the Latin, malum. In English, when it says “God creates evil”, it sounds to our ears like a noun because it’s an incomplete adjectival phrase. We want to make sense of it as “God Creates Evil” but really it says, “God creates evil…” OK.  “God creates evil….” what? To make up for this, the NABRE has “I make well-being and create woe” and the RSV has ” I make weal and create woe”. It avoids the awkward floating adjective.

The second clue is in the first part of the verse: because Hebrew poetry is often composed in couplets that have parallel meanings. “I form the light, and create darkness.” Darkness is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of light. We have God as source of Positive Quality, and also as source of the Absence of Positive Quality. And so, I suggest, the “evil” in the second part of the verse is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of peace.

Light : absence of light : : Peace : absence of peace.

A former coworker discussed with me her lack of empathy. She knows life sucks, but she has gotten through so many things that one more sucky thing isn’t going to ruin her. She is a boundless source of humor and love, and yeah, life sucks. She and I have both come to the conclusion that we have a 100% success rate getting through sucky things in the past, and so we’re, on average, set to get through the next sucky thing as well. Although she comes at it with the cynical joy of a cancer survivor, I tend to just hit it with the humility of faith.

It’s a very different attitude than our world of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”. It’s a different world from our pain killers and opioids, as well. It’s a far cry from our pot and alcohol consumption too. Facing reality with no buffer scares people enough that some people are teaching there is no such thing as reality at all. But neither drug-induced nor philosophical gnosticism can successfully banish the reality of suckiness around us. What is important is how to face it.

Elsewhere the Bible teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Consider how revolutionary that would sound to a 1st Century Roman for whom all is heartless fate and fickle gods. Now, imagine how that might sound to your random cosmic accident believing coworkers and friends. How can laying off half your coworkers be a good thing? Or losing your family in a car accident? Cancer? AIDS? How can we face the things that happen and keep the peace that our souls crave? How can we live in God’s goodness or the absence of the same.

Here is a prayer called the “Prayer of the Optina Elders” from the Byzantine tradition wherein we ask God to remind us that good things come from him, and the things we call bad, and also the unexpected things that no one wanted (or maybe even imagined) until they happened.

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labours of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.

God creates peace and also the absence of peace. But we are commanded to have peace in our hearts – even when there is none in the world. That can only be accomplished with God’s help.

A Big Slice of Humble Pie

Today’s readings:

  • Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
  • Matthew 21:28-32

In the Douay, RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Vae provocatrix, et redempta civitas, columba! non audivit vocem, et non suscepit disciplinam; in Domino non est confisa, ad Deum suum non appropinquavit.
Woe to the provoking and redeemed city, the dove. She hath not hearkened to the voice, neither hath she received discipline: she hath not trusted in the Lord, she drew not near to her God.
Zephaniah 3:1-2

In the Gospel today we hear of the two sons.

A certain man had two sons: and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work to day in my vineyard. And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went. And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering said: I go, Sir. And he went not.
Matthew 21:28b-30

Most of us are that second son. We say yes but we don’t do it at all. We know what we promised, but we can’t quite get up the gumption to live up to our Baptism. I am thankful that God is merciful, but he’s got a lot of fun in store.

I notice the Douay, following on St Jerome’s Vulgate, in turn following the LXX, ends Zephaniah 3:1 with the word “Dove” (columba, περιστερά).

Vae provocatrix, et redempta civitas, columba!ὦ ἡ ἐπιφανὴς καὶ ἀπολελυτρωμένη ἡ πόλις ἡ περιστερά

Translations that follow the later Masoretic Hebrew Bible render these verses in some variation of this:

Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city! She hears no voice,
accepts no correction; In the LORD she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near.

The Dove (or Pigeon) seems important because the Holy One certainly loves this city. She’s just messed up, that’s all. She’s redeemed, but all kinds of ungrateful. She’s rebellious and polluted. Evidently she houses prideful people who tell lies. They are prideful because of the Lord’s House in the midst of Israel. In other words, they look like religious people. But they are boastful, hateful, arrogant, oppressive, and all because of the Church in the midst of them. Not that they do much by way of piety beyond the show of it. She’s a Dove. But a dirty one.

I don’t have much to say by way of supporting American Exceptionalism, as I wrote a couple of days ago, but because quite a few of us believe it, this prophecy sounds like it could be aimed at us. This is how we act, despite the claim that we have our special mission from God. We don’t really care about the morals – but it looks nice to say “one of us” is in power. The Church caved in to politics early on, as far as divorce goes – that’s why the Eastern Churches allow for divorce and remarriage. In the Byzantine Rite there is even a service for a “second marriage”! It’s there because some Byzantine Officials wanted remarriage. The Church said, “eh… ok”

It’s the same way here in the USA. The Church in America – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant – is like the Second Son. We keep saying yes to God, but damn it all, if we don’t just go do whatever we want. I might expect that of the Protestant Mainline, but even the conservative Protestants do it. Mormons changed their teaching on marriage (Polygamy) just to be let in to the Union! Catholic politicians, Orthodox ones… they all sell out. And we want them to: because we want an excuse to sell out as well. See: we treat our politicians as Moral Arbiters. This is why there are so many pro-choice Catholic politicians and why a Pro-Choice Orthodox Senator is an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We are like a beloved dove – which is a pigeon: rats with wings, my old NYC friends used to call them. They are pretty and all. But they love garbage. We are a “City on a Hill”, so we claim. Well, if that’s who we say we are, then we’re the South Bronx on a Hill. 1960s Riot-Era Newark On a Hill.

Prostitutes and Tax Collectors will all get into heaven before we do. Even Tax Collectors. The IRS. Think about it.

God’s got a good thing planned, however: he says he’ll feed his people crow until they learn to be humble and depend entirely on him. He says he’ll bring in strangers from a foreign land to weaken the pride of his people. He says, in the end, there’s nothing for his people to be ashamed of, because he’ll have fixed it.

Mind you, as hopeful as all that sounds, it also doesn’t sound pretty. It sounds like the classic solution for mis-formed bones: break them, and force them to heal straight, maybe by forcing them into braces that hold the bones in certain painful – but correct – ways. Yeah, salvation by orthotics… we can walk correct, but our feet bleed.

Sounds about right.

Who painted it?

Today’s readings:

  • Zechariah 2:10-13
  • Luke 1:26-38

In Douay, RSV, and NABRE with other Mass texts.

Let all flesh be silent at the presence of the Lord: for he is risen up out of his holy habitation.
Zechariah 2:13

Today is the feast of the Apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. By the Roman Church she is designated as the Patroness of the Americas and, so important is this feast to certain communities that, on the DL, of course, she is even commemorated by some Orthodox in the WR, and perhaps in the ER.

The image on the cloth looks very much like the image described in St John vision, which is an alternative reading for our feast:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Rev 12:1-2

The miraculous image on the cloth weaves in such cunning ways the attributes of the Mother of God and the deities the local Aztecs would have known. The symbolism is easy to read for them although we – and their Spanish teachers – might miss it. And there are many more miraculous points to the image. My favorite being that if you photographically enlarge the eyes of the Virgin, you find that there are human images reflected in those eyes: It is believed to be the images of Juan Diego, Bishop Juan de Zummaraga, Juan Gonzales, the interpreter and others.

All of this may sound really quite surprising to you and decidedly unscientific, and even just clearly superstitious. These words are all useful if you don’t want to say “miraculous”.  I prefer to say “miraculous”.

In all her apparitions, as approved by the Church, Mary has appeared to the powerless – be they starving Irish, or oppressed Indians, Christians oppressed by Muslim invaders, or else the poor of Portugal or France.  Always Mary appears to the weakest, the least and not always to their benefit: sometimes they are abused for their visions, sometimes they ridiculed and scorned by their families and neighbors. They may be, for a time, rejected by the Church. But always she reminds them that, though they are poor in the eyes of the world, they are, in her heart, richly blessed beyond measure.

I wonder why the rich never get that message? I can’t imagine we don’t need it.

Maybe, though, we don’t want it?

Wrong God, Wrong Pew

Today’s readings:

  • Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10
  • James 5:7-10
  • Matthew 11:2-11

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts

Confortamini, et nolite timere: ecce Deus vester ultionem adducet retributionis; Deus ipse veniet, et salvabit vos.
Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.
Isaiah 35:4b

Behold your God!

I’ve got little clips of the Messiah running through my head at this time of year. Not unexpected, but constant.  This “Behold your God” is one of the places where the soloist can cut loose, embellishments happen, trills and runs, arpeggios and whatall, making a point of this prophetic utterance: BEHOLD YOUR GOD.  This God with vengeance and healing is going to be a baby laying in a pile of cow fodder, born in blood and filth. And he will need his mother’s milk to survive.

Behold your God.

There are some reasons not to like this guy – that whole vengeance part sounds scary, but verses 5 and 6 sound nice, “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free: for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness.”

Isaiah, however, puts the “Behold” right before the vengeance. As if to say, “Yeah, this is going to, on the whole, sound so very good that I’ll need to put the tough bit first so you don’t miss it: VENGEANCE.” Gulp.

Maybe he means it for our enemies – like, all the people that beat up Israel will get punished.  No, that can’t be it: because most of the people that beat up on Israel God took the credit for. God was using them on us. Goodness. he means Vengeance on Us! Let’s skip that part when we write up the music.

We like to edit God to make him conform to our ideas. I’ve been thinking about a few common edits popular today. I’ve decided to reject them. Here’s why:

The first edited god I reject is the nearly-gnostic nudger.  This dud planted hints in all our mind/world and wants us to just sort of get along. At the end of the day it’s expected that this nudger will say, “Yeah, that wasn’t the important part. Welcome to the important part now! Everyone’s going to be there.”

Were I to arrive at the Big and Pearlies and meet this party, I’d want to go to the other place: because this god is mute and powerless. I’d say to him, “You’ve seen us down here flummoxing along for millennia and all you could give us was a vague sense of “be excellent to each other” and that you might be here? Satan at least had the balls to try something more direct.”

A wee bit further down the scale of desirable deities we find the Bipolar Holy Humbug: this one seems to have spoken once or twice, but not definitively. He has up days and down days. He’s seemingly told the Jews to kill all the pagans, and told the Christians not to kill anyone, and told the Muslims to kill everyone except the Christians and the Jews, unless some politics intervene. He’s told the Native Americans next to nothing, and together with all the pagans of Europe, they got bollox for not having a deity that could write.

Heaven for this guy will look like the Simpsons’ version, with different clouds for different people, all having been promised different heavenly enjoyments. He will have to point out where each path got the “primal tradition” wrong. We’ll all get heavenly treats, but we’ll discover all our demerits too. Were I to arrive at the Sorting Supper for this archipelago, I’d let everyone know that this god has no power. Evidently once humans heard the Real Message, he couldn’t stop us from making edits to the better passages. He left no authority and no teachers.

Finally, the Nihilistic Sociopathic Deity and Partier: the one that says “All are welcome, cross over! Everything is forgiven! Come to the banquet: the party is just starting! This deity has no rules and no one will get left out. He’s either powerless to reveal any rules, or else he’s made a lot of them (because we do have a lot of them) yet they are of no value at all. I might think sex is holy one way, but not another… this deity doesn’t care. You might think ideas of justice and peace are important, but this god doesn’t care. The liberal sort might imagine that they should be saving the world. This god doesn’t care. This god doesn’t care if you’re Donald Trump, Mother Teresa, Larry Flint, or you and me. There is no punishment. There is no justice.

Were I asked to belly up to this bully’s buffet, I’d throw the tray in his face: millennia of striving for various ideas of perfection (and, yes, some of them overlap, while some of them are mutually exclusive) when all we needed to do was kill, maim, grab all the bootie and the bootay and then we’d all get to heaven anyway. Yeah, this guy hates us. Totally hates us.

In the end, however, all three of these demonic delusions have one trap left to spring: you can’t say no to them. Unless they change their minds – they could you know. We could all end up in hell just because they were passive aggressive as well as bullies. Unless they do that though, you’re trapped with them though all eternity. They intend to save us all even if we don’t want them to: eternal damnation in heaven.

I’ll take a God who loves us so much as to give us the freedom to say no. I will follow a God who loves us so much that he gives us instructions for how to follow him and, from time to time, offers correctives when we step out of line. I will love a God who loves us so much that when we had fallen into sin and death he took sin and death upon himself to destroy them. I will dance with a God who says that my choices matter, my choices have consequences, and my choices might be good – or bad. Yet they are my choices to make, my consequences, my real life.

The God of Vengeance is the God who can do something. Anything less is a god it makes no point to follow. Yes to the idea of a God having wooed me without traps, having revealed himself to me with only a Baby and expected me to follow… yes. That’s a God I need: vulnerable and yet omnipotent, just and yet merciful, glorious and awesome, yet humble and meek. That’s a God I not only want to follow, but I want to emulate him.