Hope and the Pieta

I’ve been waiting to post this. This blew me away last December, as it blows me away every time I read it.

Poetic Dialectic

The mother and her son enshrined in marblePieta St Patricks NYC

Mary looks down upon the lifeless body

of her son,  Jesus

Laid across her lap

Her hand holds his nail pierced hand

He is a full-grown man

But in her lap he is her child

Wounded soul with no hope for tomorrow

We know your wounds will not be healed tonight

Promises whispered by angels

The beauty of the star, the adoring wise men and their gifts

The gentleness of the shepherds and their lambs

Are a fading dream

Wounded soul with no hope for tomorrow

We know your wounds will not be healed tonight

Weddings and wine

Crowds fed

Healings

A promise to return

Wounded souls with no hope for tomorrow

We know your wounds will not be healed tonight

In the cold lonely grave

Hope was reborn

Wounded souls there IS hope for tomorrow

Your wounds WILL be healed tonight!

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Bright Prayers in a Dark Garden

Bright Prayers in a Dark Garden

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Olive Trees in the Traditional Garden of Gethsemane, Photo source: http://eternalscheme.com/getting-to-the-story/olive-trees-in-the-traditional-garden-of-gethsemane/

I was sitting in church at the local parish church up the street Thursday morning, waiting for a special prayer service to start with the kids from the parish school.  I’m Presbyterian, but the Roman Catholics worship God every day, so it’s with the beautiful and faithful parishoners of the wonderful and dynamic church up the street that you’ll find me many mornings.

We love Jesus, I have no apologies.

I only grabbed my J.B. Phillips New Testament in Modern English to take with me as I scooted out the door (quite literally — there was a Razor scooter involved as my primary mode of transport up the street).  Service was sweet, though not particularly deep — it was like a typical little kids’ chapel service.

In flipping through to compare Last Supper and Passion narratives, I found no traditional, liturgical “Last Supper” narrative in the Gospel of John, but I did find John 17…and in the “fresh” voice of Phillips breathing life into this text, I was absolutely blown away — how could I have somehow “missed” this chapter?  This was what I read, in the translation in which I read it, in a chapter titled Jesus’ prayer for his disciples — present and future:

When Jesus had said these words, he raised his eyes to Heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son now so that he may bring glory to you, for you have given him authority over all men to give eternal life to all that you have given to him. And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent — Jesus Christ.

“I have brought you honour upon earth, I have completed the task which you gave me to do. Now, Father, honour me in your own presence with the glory that I knew with you before the world was made. I have shown your self to the men whom you gave me from the world. They were your men and you gave them to me, and they have accepted your word. Now they realise that all you have given me comes from you — and that every message which you gave me I have given them. They have accepted it all and have come to know in their hearts that I did come from you — they are convinced that you sent me.

“I am praying to you for them: I am not praying for the world but for the men whom you gave me, for they are yours — everything that is mine is yours and yours mine — and they have done me honour. Now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am returning to you. Holy Father, keep the men you gave me by your power that they may be one, as we are one. As long as I was with them, I kept them by the power that you gave me; I guarded them, and not one of them has been lost, except the son of destruction — that the scripture might come true.

“And now I come to you and I say these things in the world that these men may find my joy completed in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are no more sons of this world than I am. I am not praying that you will take them out of the world but that you will keep them from the evil one. They are no more the sons of the world than I am — make them holy by the truth; for your word is the truth. I have sent them to the world just as you sent me to the world and I consecrated myself for their sakes that they may be made holy by the truth.

I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you, I am asking that they may live in us, and that the world may believe that you did send me. I have given them the honour that you gave me, that they may be one as, as we are one — I in them and you in me, that they may grow completely into one, so that the world may realise that you sent me snd have loved them as you loved me. Father, I want those whom you have given me to be with me where I am; I want them to see the glory which you have made mine — for you loved me before the world began. Father of all goodness, the world has not known you, but I have known you and these men now know that you have sent me. I have made your self known to them, and will continue to do so that the love which you have had for me may be in their hearts — and that I may be there also.”

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I still question how in the world I lived and loved God so long, and yet somehow “missed” this chapter. These seem like simple words, but are powerful words for the intercession of Christ on behalf of his disciples…past, present, and always. These is always a lot to think about in all the events surrounding the Garden of Gethsemane, but this chapter takes it to a whole new level.

Blessings for this Good Friday. I’m on my way Downtown for mass at the Cathedral. Presbyterian though I may be, those Roman Catholic roots run deep, and NO ONE does Good Friday like the Catholics. — VKS

Grace Abounding

Grace Abounding

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I haven’t forgotten my Ignatian journey, but that journey has led me to a careful examination and contemplation of the lives of various individuals, Joshua among them.  As I’ve walked through a careful meditative study of Joshua’s life (and what God thought about Joshua and the promises made to Joshua by God), it has taken me through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy in a couple days (yes, I am crazy like that).  What strikes me though, is the details of the various sins I’ve committed in my own life punishable by death.  There was a question in our study group tonight that asked how we reacted to the idea that God thinks we are “a keeper”?  My response is that the measure of God’s grace and mercy required for that to be true sends me to my knees and often flat on my face before the throne of God.

Good Friday is coming, but Maundy Thursday first.  The intertwining of Easter and Passover cannot be missed.  It is Christ’s blood on my doorpost.  I don’t deserve that.

I saw this earlier and it gives me chills (there is no appropriate response but love and gratitude):

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On my knees

On my knees

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

So, when I finally got home from the hospital Monday afternoon — exhausted from basically NO sleep the night before — I crashed for a few hours while “Mom” in the family of the household where I live went out with the kiddos because the littlest miss had an appointment.  Lovely time for a nap.  It was insanity when they got home though, as it was *one of those days*, the house is a wreck, and no one got naps.  Saw the Cathedral advertising a special mass on their Facebook feed as I scrolled through, and it did not take a lot of thought to know I wanted to get the heck out of Dodge Monday night.  On some level I think every week should be Holy Week if only for the opportunity to worship so much more often.

I raced downtown, of course praying all the way down…which, of course, also had me in tears.  Maybe you can understand how it is to be the kind of person with whom the conversation does not normally stop at the “How are you?” / “Fine.” level.  To be fair, I do pretty regularly check-in with folks via e-mail or text message or Facebook.  When people I love respond to my prayer request inquiries, it’s complicated.  I wouldn’t say that my friends count on me, they don’t per se, but what they count on is — as one of my very best friends, a dear prayer partner, and the only human God has graced and blessed me with the honor of walking with at the start of her jouney of faith put it the other night — a “spiritual constant.”  Well “constant” is a good word for me anyway, I can be cranky sometimes, but I have a pretty even emotional keel.  “Spiritually constant” is a label I will take, but it keeps my inbox full.  These are not prayers on the “please pray I will do well on my board exams” kind of prayer requests.  These are more along the lines of folks with crazed relatives out to kill them, people captive to eating disorders and mental illness, people with children not only far from God but sometimes in a lot of trouble and missing (and grandkids missing with them), people with struggling marriages, or friends who profoundly love Jesus and cling tightly to God but who live in living situations surrounded by profound darkness closing in on them from every side as they sit like a backstop for Christ between those they love so dearly and all the furies of hell waiting for an opportunity to unleash with power to destroy everyone and everything in their path.

When I ask: “How can I pray for you?” those are the types of answers I get.  Those are the prayers that keep me in tears.  I don’t care where I am anymore, but the long stretches of time spent crossing the San Fernando Valley or headed downtown seem to be a perfect opportunity to pray, as I have nothing else I “need” to be focusing on at the time.  So that was Monday night just as much as it was Monday morning.

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St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican, Rome

So, there was not a lot of thought or intent for WHY to head downtown other than wanting to get out of the house, and worshipping God among God’s people in a beautiful sacred space seemed to be a good way to do that.  If you are my friend, you understand that my default plan for “how to spend free time” includes “going to church” in some capacity and “art museums”; it does not include such typical perennial favorites as “let’s go see a movie” or “let’s stay home and watch TV” or “let’s go hang out at the mall.”

I got there barely “on time,” but “on time” just the same.  I actually earned an Order of Mass from someone who decided that me singing “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” (think “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee…) with my whole heart and pulling out the stops for what my voice had to offer because Beethoven’s 9th is GLORIOUSLY in-range for my voice — and singing this while desperately trying to read the words of the hymn off her friend’s Order of Mass — meant that I wanted or needed that piece of paper more than she did.

Incidentally, I was/am blown away at the beauty of the words to “Church of God, Elect and Glorious.”  Seriously.  Beautiful and powerful.

I was stuck rather close to the beautiful processional in, for by the time I got there people were still flooding in and it was standing room only in a packed house in one of the largest cathedrals in the world.

That’s a moment.

It was a Chrism Mass (but what do I know of such things, I’ve never lived near the seat of an Archdiocese before…).  That crowd…it was like being at a wedding full of people whose primary objective was loving Jesus and worshipping God, and whose secondary objective was sharing the joy of this in prayerful support of their fellow saints (per se, in the Protestant understanding of the word).  After the processional, I was able to make my way across and up and ended up spending most of two hours ON MY KNEES behind the row if pews that mark the center aisle.

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Photo source, Compassion International

That’s not for everybody, I understand, but there is something much more intentional (and far less comfortable!) in worshipping God on your knees rather than sitting.  You have to want to be there, every moment is present-tense not only for what is going on with your knees and lower back, but drawing you back into what is going on everywhere else.  Kneeling through a worship service is not a spectator sport, and it would be impossible to, say, fall asleep doing it.

There was a lesson there.

I ended up not in my usual spot, but across and under St. Cecilia, St. Stephen, and St. Ignatius of Loyola (I can work with that, for nothing in the world against any of the other tapestries, I love them all, but if I have a choice for “who to sit by” in church, I pick familiar friends who, in this case, inspire me).

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Communion of the Saints, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, CA

I was next to a girl from Reseda who sings in her church choir as much as I should sing in ours (which I would if I could reasonably make rehearsals).  Our vocal range was similar, which is very fun.  She was about my age, maybe a bit younger, and she and her friends were very nice; it was beautiful and fun to worship with her, singing songs (bilingual ones) that are — by now — very familiar to me.

Now, to be sure, as a resolute Protestant, in any mass there are those “yup, I don’t believe that” moments, but I am disinclined toward the notion of a “seating chart” in heaven.  But apart from blessing the oils there sat hundreds of priests publically reaffirming their faith and their vows before a room of people who turned out to love and prayerfully support them.  And we were also called to renew our own commitment to faith which — on your knees in a giant beautiful cathedral amid so many joyously faithful saints, standing under tapestries depicting the lives of so many who lived beautiful lives that inspire ME — was a powerful thing.  There is so much that is truly beautiful wrapped up in the idea of “the communion of the saints.”

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Archdiocesan Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Monday, March 25, 2013. (photo: Victor Aleman / vida-nueva.com)

I’ve “passed through” various ecumenical places on my way to Geneva (and Calvin), as it were.  I’ve been in various churches and denominations where an alter call was fairly normal, and certainly at the single Christian camp experience I had many years ago, there was the call to not just merely commitment to faith but a renewed commitment to faith.  I’ve had the weird pleasure of having to really come to terms with the parameters of my own faith twice in the last seven years as I made the very public profession of faith to join two churches.  Certainly most days I wake up with the attitude: “Good morning, Lord, bring it on,” but there are other moments.  Occasionally there are also moments — and I know Monday night was one of them — where I am more of the mind of: “Lord, I have no idea where we are going, but before heaven — let all these people be my witnesses — I’m all-in, so, yes…bring it on, and where are we going tomorrow?”

But with an “on my knees” intentionality.

So I may not have had any deep motives for why to head to the cathedral Monday night, but God did…which became very clear to me as I — on my knees and singing my heart out — found myself amid a liturgy focused on vocation, service, and faithfulness.  It was a beautiful thing.
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(Click here for the link to the YouTube video for the Homily of the March 25, 2013 Chrism Mass given by Archbishop José H. Gomez)

Transfiguring the world with joy

Transfiguring the world with joy

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As most who know me know, expressing an intriguing idea in my presence always carries with it the risk of me thinking deeply on the matter and then giving you my $0.02 (and by “my $0.02,” I of course mean $0.02…with about $17.98 in spare change to go with it).  In an e-mail to another Christian — one I admittedly do not know well, but know well ENOUGH to know that both Easter and Lent are on his radar screen — I closed with a cordial word of hope and a reference to the resurrection:

“As we, with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, progress through this holy season and prepare to celebrate the grace and mercy of the crucifixion and the glory of the resurrection, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.”

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His response was:

“Maybe joy of the resurrection transfigured our whole world”

Which, of course set me to tho thinking…and thinking…and thinking some more. What follows is my response…

[I preface the following with the reminder of my intent toward Theological Studies as a major…and that I have had more time than normal American humans to read/write/think about theology; normal American humans watch TV at night instead]

I thought about it, and maybe you’re right and the resurrection did transfigure the whole world. Maybe it’s like C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle where we come upon the dwarves who are in Aslan’s Country but think they are still in the stable and actually came to a place of such total resolve to self-reliance that they were blind to the truth of reality? Lucy begged for compassion for them, but they were not able to receive it because their own perspective was too warped. Or perhaps it is like all the “ghosts” in The Great Divorce — the ones who wouldn’t get on the bus, the ones who wouldn’t get off the bus, the ones who headed back to the bus, the ones who couldn’t be persuaded to stay and preferred the awfulness of the place from whence they came? That place that may or may not have been heaven was available to anyone if his or her heart and mind were in a place to be able to receive the beauty and blessings that were on offer…yet many either left that offer on the table or else were so damnably self-absorbed they never knew the offer had been made. The joy of the resurrection may or may not have transfigured the whole world, but even if it did I can tell you truly that not everyone in the world has noticed. There is a lot of dark brokenness in this world trying to mess things up and distract people away from the glorious joy and truth of the promises fulfilled by the crucifixion/resurrection/ascension. Those three are inseparably co-dependent on each other to fully complete God’s great rescue plan, and while I think I need to think about this a little more before I’m comfortable to give what I’m about to write status as my “final answer,” I’m leaning in the direction that — of the three — the ascension was and is the one that has had the biggest impact for transfiguring the whole world because the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is “present progressive.”
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Christ is truly awesome in every sense of the word, but in life the gospels are replete with stories of desperate people following him in great thronging crowds for just the chance to MAYBE encounter this Jesus. And though his resurrected body apparently had cool abilities like being able to walk through walls, there was still only one of him. A pastor friend of mine preached a very good sermon last fall as part of a series on The Nicene Creed where he ran through a very amusing “What if?” on “What if there was no ascension?” as the intro. It was imaginatively funny, but drove home the point in a way I don’t think I’ll ever forget, because without the ascension we wouldn’t have the Holy Spirit. And it’s the Holy Spirit that makes possible Christ’s power in plurality across the whole world and all time. Christ set his immediate world ablaze, but the Holy Spirit set the WHOLE world ablaze (and being at least 7/8 filthy gentile scum in ancestry, thanks be to God for THAT!). And while God is God is God regardless of person, and while the Holy Spirit’s primary function is to point to Christ, the Holy Spirit enables Christ’s power to transfigure the world in an amazingly unique (and present progressive!!! 😀 ) way.
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So while the crucifixion and resurrection began the transfiguration of the world, I would argue that the best news of all is that the Holy Spirit has been/is/continues to carry the torch for the transforming power of Christ in the world. But I reiterate, even such a great and glorious manifestation of Christ’s power still — on some level — requires notice to be appreciated; notice of God and Christ is inversely proportional to degree of self-focus (and my brain with its Calvinist bend is of the view that the primary operating gear of humanity in its post-fall “natural” state is “self-focus”).

So all that to say that I think I agree with you, but with some corollary modifications to your original statement (mea culpa, it’s the mathematician in me).

Blessings to you in all things

Why Did Jesus Die?

This is extremely thought provoking and absolutely worth a read (and thus a reblog here). Blessings to you this Holy Werk, and blessings for your day. This IS the day that the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Dorothy Day Center for Faith & Justice

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One of the many things that we need to do during Lent – besides growing personally in freedom from our many inordinate attachments – is to deepen our understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In addition to the additional prayer, fasting and solidarity we want to adopt during Lent, we should try to reflect on our faith so that we can better communicate it and share it with others. One of the basic questions that we need to ponder especially during Lent is: Why did Jesus die?

There is little disagreement over how Jesus died: we all know that he died on the cross and that he had been sentenced to death under Pontius Pilate. But there is greater disagreement revolving around why Jesus died. Most contemporary theologians insist that Jesus was condemned to death because of the way that he lived. They insist that Jesus was killed…

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