Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Joseph as an Older Man in Sacred Art

In a recent post, I suggested Joseph was an older man who became betrothed to Mary in order to act as her caretaker. In a comment to that post, one reader asked how I know he was older. The answer is that it was an understanding of the early church based on various documents of the time, including the writings of church fathers.

I thought it would be interesting to look at sacred art to see how it reflects this ancient understanding. I may keep searching to find even older ones, but these illustrate the point.

Enjoy the gallery...











(early 1423)




(Late 1400s to early 1500s)

(Mid 1400s)

(Mid 1400s)


(Late 1400s)



(Early 1500s)



(Early 1600s)




(Late 1600s to early 1700s)

(Late 1600s to early 1700s)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Evangelicals: Look Deeper. Do Not Be Afraid.

I've been thinking a lot about the blessed virgin, our mother. Both because of Christmas and the readings of the season, and because of a heartbreaking women's Bible study about I attended earlier in December.

I did my best to represent her at the study. I knew I was walking into fire, so DiDi and I prepared in advance. I dug out my Mary binder, reminded myself of writings of the early church fathers and the reformers, and prayed. I identified the key points I wanted to make, and coached myself on keeping my mouth shut as much as possible, other than to stick to these minimal points.

It was more painful than I expected. I think it was even harder for DiDi though; I've been through it before, but this was her first time hearing so much disrespect after coming to understand who Mary is.

The study takes place in a non-denominational evangelical church with baptist roots. The doctrine of sola scriptura is flown like a banner when needed to direct discussion away from dangerous areas. But only then. If issues of Marian doctrine are raised, like the historic ancient understanding of her perpetual virginity, then the Bible-alone flag is tossed into the arena, shutting down further discussion or thought. But history and tradition are readily turned to by the authors of the study materials and by the group leader when the information agrees with their point.

It is, in effect, selective scriptura.

There is no way I could view Mary as this group does, and as hundreds of thousands of evangelicals do; the insignificant girl who just happened to bear Jesus. But I figured the best way to take on the discussion would be to approach it the way they did, by looking at the Gospel accounts alone. I'd disregard her interconnection to the old testament ark and covenant, and references to her in the book of Revelation.

And so we approach this girl, from the perspective of sola Evangealion.

Immediately we run into problems in evangelical doctrine. For example, how can scripture alone believers think that she had other children? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that she did. Scripture lists brothers and sisters of Jesus a number of times in many different contexts. But it never, ever uses the phrase "son of Mary" other than when referring to Christ himself.

So if we are sticking with scripture alone, why is there such mass acceptance of something that is extra-scriptural?

Evangelical tradition.

But here's a more interesting question. The question of whether Mary and Joseph ever actually completed the multiple steps of the ancient Jewish marriage process. In that day, the marriage contract was created at the time of betrothal, followed by a year-long waiting period (or more), followed by the actual marriage and celebratory feast.

Clearly Mary and Joseph were contracted to marry. But Luke 2 tells us that they were still only betrothed when they went to Bethlehem to be registered. According to Luke, they were not married at the time of Jesus' birth.

There is no scriptural reference to Mary and Joseph's actual wedding. There is no record of her ritual preparations, of the ceremonial waiting, of his stealing her away in the night. No record of his spending seven days with her in the chamber prepared in her father's house, whereupon the marriage would be consummated. There is no description of a wedding feast.

If I subscribe to the doctrine of sola scriptura, I would be wrong to assume that the marriage was completed. There is no record of it. It would be an assumption to think that it had been.

And weddings were a big deal; just look at the recounting of Cana.

Weddings are such a big deal that Holy Writ repeatedly describes our relationship with God as marital. The church is the bride. The Lamb's supper is a wedding banquet. Jesus first miracle took place within the context of a wedding celebration.

Weddings were a very big deal. Marriage was a big deal. Ceremony and ritual were a big deal.

They still are. Our God is a God of covenantal relationship. But the wedding of Mary and Joseph? Never mentioned. Never described.

How does the evangelical mindset deal with this? What implications does it have for the extra-scriptural belief that Mary and Joseph had children?

And why should it be wrong to contemplate these questions?

Extra-Biblical dogma is alive and thriving in the evangelical world. Every denomination has tradition, just as the Roman Catholic church does, except few people point it out to them. Most of the faithful don't even know it, they simply accept what they are taught, assuming these beliefs must be scriptural because the church they attend says they rely on the Bible alone. They accept it as they are fed it because they love Jesus and want to be His faithful followers. When questioned about the foundations for various traditions, many react with fear or defensiveness, unwilling to even enter into discussion.

But it is not wrong to question. It is not wrong to dig. It is not wrong to look to history and the church fathers and doctors when asking the Holy Spirit to grant us revelation about His holy word.

And it is not wrong to venerate the holy mother of God himself. 

As for me and my house, we will follow the lead of the archangels. We will not be afraid. And we will call her Full of Grace.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Witnessing Goes Two Ways

Two lovely Jehovah's Witness ladies stopped by today. I overheard them talking to the neighbor while I was out on the porch, and invited them to come up.

It was interesting to find that they didn't want to go into any tenets of their faith other than the basic message of Christ's kingdom eventually reigning. I don't know much about it, and so wanted to hear more. Apparently the approach is to walk you step by step, first with literature, then with a Bible study offered in your own home, then... what?

I took a few pieces of literature. Should be interesting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mary, Help of Christians...

I'm becoming reacquainted with Mary. I studied her intensively back in 2005 but it's been awhile since I took time to contemplate the depth of her holiness. Re-reading the writings of the early fathers of the church (Irenaeus, Ignatious of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Augustine, etc.) and the Protestant reformers (Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Wesley) brings back the sadness I felt six years ago. The reformers maintained the views of her that the early church held and that the Catholic, Orthodox church, and some Anglican's continue to hold. 

But what happened over the last few centuries since the reformation?

Mary's purity, her holiness, her spousal relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit, her role as mother of the church and mother of God, all have been stripped away in many Protestant denominations. She is reduced to some random girl who happened to have been chosen to carry the baby Jesus to term.

It hurts my heart.

I attend a women's Bible study group on Wednesday mornings at a lovely non-denominational church with Baptist roots. This week we will discuss Mary. These women do not know who she is. I covet your prayers that I bring forward what Mary's son would have me bring forward, and that I would keep my lips closed about anything He would not.

Mary help of Christians, pray for us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Priceless Work of Art

What he's been creating, since the first beat of your heart, is a living, breathing, priceless work of art. -- Steven Curtis Chapman

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Longing to believe

I have been tortured with longing to believe... and the yearning grows stronger the more cogent the intellectual difficulties stand in the way.

-- Fyodor Dostoevsky

Monday, October 24, 2011

On Sunrises at 47

DiDi took me to watch the sun come up over the ocean today. It was a present; my birthday is later this week, but the weather is predicted to turn.

The experience reminds me of motherhood.

You wait as the sky begins at black, flat stomach busy only with consumption.

And then the sky tinges gently at the edges, softening, roundness forming from a place you can't see.

The bulge grows larger, a gradual magic that happens before your eyes, apparently without motion.

Your view of the universe changes as you watch. The sky so stable and predictably blue or steel striates suddenly into pink and orange and violet. The world is changed as you watch; everything is colored by this miracle unfolding.

Finally it crowns. Gloriously unique, magnetically miraculous, filling your heart with the wonder of creation and the joy of possibilities.

You watch as it continues to rise, distance increasing. The colors fade as it progresses, as if newness and color are one, both of them worn away by time.

Throughout the day you check on it, this creation you remember as wonderful. You watch it and set your clock by it and live your life by it and are grateful for it. Every hour.

Inevitably, bittersweet, you watch it go away again. A burst of color if conditions are right. A cloudy withdrawal if they are not.

And you stand in the dark, serenaded by stars that sing or drenched by their weeping.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Carol and David's Bathsheba

I found this beautiful painting titled "Bathsheba" on my friend Carol Douglas' website:

I love the way this picture makes her look like she is lying at the bottom of a pool, as if light and shadows flicker across her body through the water. I love the slight smile on her relaxed face, comfortably naked. Comfortable in her soft beauty.

It differs from the vision of beauty we imagine when reading 2 Samuel 11.

But I love this vision of Bathsheba, resting in her moment of fecundity, unaware of what was about to happen.

I love what this picture says about David; lover, dancer, poet king, sinner, man after God's own heart.

No wonder a child like Solomon would be produced from such a union.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Immortality in Remission

Last week I attended the first session of a Bible study on women of the Bible. I'm not impressed with the workbook, but digging into Genesis and looking at Eve with DiDi has already been fruitful.

During this morning's peek, I was drawn to Gen 3:22-24:
Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever? The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Prior to this Adam and Eve were allowed access to this tree, and presumably (to my mind), ate from it.

I wonder if it was those days of freely eating that fruit which allows us eventual physical immortality? Is there some lingering effect that will be triggered at the end of time causing us to burst force bodily into full bloom like an ancient pine nut after the forest burns down?

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I watch you touch one
wrapping your arms around her shoulders
closing your eyes and pulling her close

I watch you bend your head
pressing your lips against the hair of another
smiling down into her face

I watch you squat to greet a little one
rubbing your face against his curving belly
making him giggle

I watch your love in action
and tuck away a piece each time
for me.

--Chantelle Franc

He loves me?

pink petals fall
a drift of pink on the floorboard
till only a stalk stands
with one or two petals clinging

I will leave them there till they disintegrate
and then breathe the dust

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On Fireflies and Gratitude

I'm back in the Land of Pain for a few days, having returned for my son's high school graduation. It's a bittersweet event no matter what the circumstances, and this year's relationship disruption intensified both characteristics.

I am proud of my tall son, behind who's strengthening face I can see the soft lines of a young child. Proud of many things, not least of which is his shouldering through the clamoring voices of those who label me evil incarnate to permit short moments of time with me. It would be easier for him to be pulled completely in and simply cut me off as others have. But he hasn't, and I am grateful. Proud and grateful.

I will have a few hours with him today and tomorrow. And I am grateful.

I don't think I could stand up against the pain if it weren't for the amazing generousity of our great God.

DiDi and I camped the first few days in the area. It's a good way to save money and gain peace. Our final night found the campground deserted. We were the only tent left, a long way from other humans. Cell phones can't get service there. Last year a woman at the site said she'd seen a bear walking through camp.

We took precautions with food and did the right things. I didn't feel at risk, but for some reason DiDi's antenna were twitching. She has keen spiritual feelers and gut instinct, and takes the issue of safety and protection seriously. Something had her warning bells clanging.

I put my own feelers out, listening for the quiet whisper of the Spirit issuing warning or reassurance. I felt peace.

And so we stayed, lifting prayers for protection.

DiDi couldn't shake it though.

We went to bed knowing there was a full day ahead, breaking camp and heading back to Rochester and certain pain. The puppy settled quickly, but I could hear that DiDi was restless, jerking up at snaps and crackles in the underbrush. Sighing and tossing. I continued to feel that we were safe, and prayed for peace to fall upon her so that she could sleep.

He answered the prayer in a magical way.

Near the door of the tent, down low and outside, a firefly began blinking. We watched it for a few minutes, marveling. Neither of us had seen anything like it before, despite both having camped periodically all our lives.

The tent was in a clearing, and the bugs I've seen always stayed near vegetation.

They also stayed low. But this little guy started climbing.

On the other side of the tent, another one appeared. The light show intensified and morphed, with flashes coming intermittently from the side and eventually the top, when the first bug settled there.

The second bug began moving upward as well, seeking to join the first.

And that's when a third firefly appeared.

After a few minutes, all three were positioned at the top center of the tent. They moved around slightly, circling and drifting back and forth but staying basically centered.

I marvelled at the miraculous coming together of His beautiful creation, at a time we needed it.

Lightning bug researchers say that the light may be a defense mechanism, warning off predators.

My first picture book contains a page about fireflies. My second picture book centers around the idea of angels and saints working through nature.

And so He sent a trinity of fireflies to reassure and protect us. Reminding us of His immanence and the particularity of His love.

I fell asleep in wonder and peace, waking periodically throughout the dark night, and seeing that the tiny guardians remained, casting His light in waves singing "I am here..."

In the morning we broke camp, and began driving back north. Once cell phones were back in service I discovered that the time planned with my son for the day was cancelled.

But He sent fireflies, like the rainbow we experienced on the previous trip. Miraculous signs and wonders of reassurance and hope.

And I am grateful.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Haunting desire for unity

The desire for unity has haunted me all my life through; I have never been able to substitute any desire for that, or to accept any of the different schemes for satisfaction of that men have desired.

-- F. D. Maurice

Monday, June 20, 2011

I cried in church again yesterday

I cried in church again yesterday.

It's been awhile since I've done that. It used to happen all the time because the pain of my life was ubiquitous and my gratitude for God's love overwhelming.

Now the pain has shifted into new forms and combined with hope, and His love feels more like relationship than tidal wave.

I cried for another reason.

DiDi and I have been trying to find the parish that is meant for us to attend. Little towns and villages are clustered here like grapes, and we've been giving each Catholic church several visits to get a feel for what they are like.

Yesterday was the third visit to a lovely small church with a quaint seaside name in a beach town north of us. The service started at 10:30. We exited the building at 11:07, after 90% of the recessional stampede abated.

I called it the Drive Thru Mass.

It was Trinity Sunday. The homily lasted about 3 minutes.

He devoted 3 minutes to helping us understand the Trinity.

3 minutes.

There is only one way to address the majesty of the Trinity in that little time, so that's what he did. He said it was a mystery and that we should accept it as an article of our faith.

The lay reader must have been coached about speed as well, because the prayers of the people ended like this:


No pause. No moment for reflection. (I'd intended to pray for the church and its congregation, but no time for that.)

DiDi and I looked at each other with grieved hearts and disbelief.

Words of the consecration prayers also ran together into a nearly incomprehensible stream.

But it was the Eucharistic hymn that finally broke me.

DiDi and I plan to enter RCIA once we find our home parish. Until we join the church officially, we honor its teaching about reception of the Eucharist and abstain, going up to simply receive a blessing from the priest when practical.

There is pain in that abstention. Hunger. Thirst. Longing.

We refrain from receiving out of respect and reverence for the incredible gift that it is. That He is. We do it as a way of honoring Him and His body, the church.

But it hurts.

And so sitting among a body who didn't seem to mind their shepherd rushing through the mass as if it were homework was an affront.

The Eucharistic hymn was "I am the Bread of Life":
I am the Bread of life,
He who comes to Me shall not hunger,
He who believes in Me shall not thirst.
No one can come to Me
Unless the Father draw him.

And I will raise him up,
And I will raise him up,
And I will raise him up on the last day.
The words broke my heart, wondering if this flock would try to lift Him up, when their last day came. I tried to sing but couldn't through the tears.

The Catholic church offers a treasury of gifts. It carries with it the fullness of relationship; understanding the role of Mother within the Holy family. It provides the richness of all the sacraments, with Eucharist as source and summit. It holds the deposit of faith transmitted from Peter.

And yet...

During concluding announcements, the priest looked at his watch and said to the congregation "See how good I am to you?" because the service had been so short. The body responded with a round of applause.

It was the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which fell on Father's Day. The priest stood in the person of Christ to offer His body and blood, poured out for us. Such richness. Such an opportunity for spiritual and intellectual and emotional feeding of God's people.

And yet the priest, our Father, thought that being good to us was getting us out the door in record time.

I repeat Moses' words from yesterday's reading:
"This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." (Ex 34:9)
Lord, send us to a parish that loves you, respects you, and wants to worship and receive you. In the meantime, may every tear we cry be used for the restoration of your Church.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Contemplatio in action: the Trinity's fulcrum?

I love how praying the rosary opens the mind to to insights about our God.

Contemplatio in action.

Monday night's meditations on the joyful mysteries got me thinking about the Holy Trinity, and about the relationships the three persons have with us.

I often assign roles to them in my thoughts and prayers. For example, when anointing DiDi's forehead with oil, I make the sign of the cross, saying:
In the name of the Father who created you
the Son who redeems and saves you
and the Holy Spirit who comforts and guides you.
There they are in their neat little packages.

I continue the prayer by reminding DiDi that she is the daughter of the King, sister of Christ, and spouse of the Holy Spirit.

So in this "model" we have three distinct roles of Father, Brother, Spouse. Still pretty neat and tidy.

But keep going and the divisions get murky, confusing.

Given that the Father is both Christ's father and ours, Jesus becomes our sibling. But because baptism is a marital celebration, and reception of the Eucharist is consummation of the wedding feast, Jesus is also our husband.

So Jesus is not only sibling, but also spouse.

And it doesn't end there.

While contemplating the Nativity in the rosary, I thought about the opening verses in John's gospel:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be 4 through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 5 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus was firstborn, and we were made through him. Without Him nothing came to be. He gave us life.

That's what fathers do. They give us life. We come into being through them.

So this means that Jesus, as the giver of life, is the father.

And that makes the Father really the grandfather.

Let's tally the roles we've got for the three persons so far:

The Father=father/grandfather
The Son=brother, husband/spouse, father
The Holy Spirit=husband/spouse

It is interesting that the roles of the Father and of the Spirit are essentially unchanged throughout the thought stream. They are who they are.

But in the Son, the roles vary. He takes on the roles held by both the Father and of the Spirit, while simultaneously maintaining His own.

I wonder if this is somehow the fulcrum around which the mystery of the Trinity spins?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Space, time, and glorified bodies

I've been thinking about resurrected bodies. Flesh glorified.

The pondering began last week as we read about the Ascension. It is a conundrum to consider Jesus still enfleshed, fully human, fully divine, somewhere in a "place" called heaven. His body is simultaneously broken on the cross, hidden in all the tabernacles of the world, and fully and wonderfully glorified in heaven.

So many mysteries...

If I were a physicist I would work with joy toward a physical explanation of how this is possible. Some new understanding of spacetime, of string theory M evolving into N O P and Q, and then from string to liquid, and liquid to mist.

Instead I sit and ponder.

Last night it came to mind again, this enigma of glorified bodies, as I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. I thought about the fourth mystery, Mary's ascension into heaven. I thought about the angels and saints waiting with joy to greet her, this amazing person who's fiat wrought so much change. Most of these beings were incorporeal, with only three exceptions: Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus himself.

I wonder why our triune God decided to give Mary and the other two humans a taste of what the rest of us will only discover at the end of time?

I went on to think about Peter and the sons of thunder on the mountain, with Jesus transfigured, communing with Elijah and Moses.

Unlike Elijah, Moses died a traditional death and was buried. And yet there he stood with the others, similarly glorified.

I think the disciples walked up the mountain and stepped outside of time for a moment, and into a time to come. They saw Christ as He would be post-resurrection; shining like the sun. They saw Elijah, still in the bodily form he'd had when the wheels drew him up into the sky. And they saw Moses also in bodily form, though his body would have long since turned to dust.

The boys undoubtedly received a foretaste of resurrection to help equip them for the work of spreading the gospel. But for me it is says so much more than just that.

(Though "that" is no small thing.)

For me the story says "Wonder."

Do it.

Don't be afraid to think "how can this be?" Not in the way you would think it if you were told that a purple Leprechaun just brought you a pot of gold. But in the way that you think about the colors of a sunset, knowing there is an explanation and wondering what it is.

Do it.


And know that Pascal, Newton, Magnus, Bacon, Kelvin, Henrietta Swan-Leavitt, Florensky, Milne, Einstein, Jaki, and Sandich anticipate their own glorified bodies, watching and urging us on to keep searching.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Inexplicable demonstration of His love

Yesterday I returned home from a trip back to Rochester, the Land of Pain. I was able to spend most of one day with my son, and am grateful for it but wished for more. DiDi's daughter stayed with us the three days we were there, which was a blessing. Time with friends and loved ones was also good.

But the place itself is a complex mix of love and pain.

Perhaps over the years that will change, but for this first trip back, we could feel it driving in, a cloud hovering over the region.

Dark. Threatening. Intimidating.

The cloud followed us as we drove back out of town a few days later, the darkness infiltrating the car and our hearts. It clung for hours into the trip. Almost the whole way home in fact.

But as it began to withdraw, somewhere around the middle of Massachusetts, our amazing God blew the rest of it away.

Real storm clouds loomed, the gray sky full of rain to come. And into this gray promise bloomed a rainbow. At first the colors were tepid, weak, uncertain. As they came into focus, a second rainbow began to appear in an outer arc, this one bleary as the first had begun.

They remained in view for at least 10 minutes. The first bow grew more saturated until we could see the separation between colors distinctly. The ordinarily blurred flow from indigo to blue became tangible. When we came to a part in the trees, we could see the bow in its entirety, the two ends touching the horizon.

It was breathtaking.

We took picture after picture with our phones, wishing for a real camera, amazed that the rainbows lasted so long and changed so much. Eventually we stopped trying to capture it, and just watched the main bow fade as we continued driving east, the secondary bow remaining insubstantial but still present.

The show seemed to be almost over. And that's when the miraculous happened.

It looked like we were getting closer and closer to the weak rainbow, which I didn't think was possible. After a minute or two, we saw the left end of the rainbow touching down on the road up ahead. We watched it grow larger as we approached, until it was just a few car lengths away. The van in front of us drove through it as if it were a curtain of light; you could see the spectrum travel over the metal. Then we also drove through it, and the light washed over the hood and disapeared behind us.

It was amazing.

Incongruous. Beautiful. Inexplicable.

Maybe even impossible, depending on which website you read. Wikipedia says that someone standing at the end of a rainbow could not see it.

But that doesn't change anything, because it happened.

As you can imagine, the rest of the trip was different. Astonishment jolted us out of our spiritual and emotional miasma. Our laughter and joy returned. We arrived home a bit later, light of heart.

We left Rochester, driving away from what had become a center of heartache and pain, bringing some of the darkness that clings there with us. And for some inexplicable reason, He washed us with His light and love.

Because that's just who He is.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Kiss of God

Last night I spent a short period of time in imaginatio divina. The Christian fitness program that DiDi and I are attending concluded with 10 minutes of stillness, so I used the time to go back to the waterfall.

My time there showed me just how much healing has taken place in this last, grueling year, despite the pain and loss that continues. Or more likely, through it.

Normally when I step under the deluge, the water is so cold it snatches my breath. It pounds and rips my clothes away, along with the crust of accumulated sin. Once through, the air is warm and I catch my breath and go to Him, primarily as a child, to crawl on His lap.

Last night was different.

I approached the waterfall across the same stone bridge (strange to see a bridge leading into a river rather than crossing it...) and began bracing myself for the impact. But as my foot first touched the downrushing water I felt the difference. I stepped in fully, and instead of the icy shock that I expected, the water flowed soft and warm over my body. It was more viscous than normal water, and scented. I stood beneath and breathed, watching as it poured all around me. Flower buds coursed down as if growing within it like water lilies.

Knowing I didn't have a lot of time, I walked out of the beautiful water into the cavern behind. The air was warm and scented with its usual mix of perfume and incense. And He waited there, as always.

He waits on an elevated stone seat. This time I approached Him standing tall, perfumed from the stream. I walked, not rushing, luxuriant as he watched, waiting. I climbed the steps. His arms reached out for me and I stepped in to His embrace.

Skin to skin.

Thank you, Lord, for teaching me what the kiss of God is like.

What a difference this was from the cold, huddling child who first climbed on His lap. What a difference a long, hard year can make. What a difference to go through such a year with a friend and encourager who speaks God's love into your heart.

Thank you Lord. Thank you DiDi.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It may be a ---long--- wait

This morning I was thinking about the pain of not being understood by the ones you love most. The pain of being judged so severely that you are shut out of lives. It's a topic I think about every day.

I'm using a Christian book on eating and fitness as a source for daily devotions, and today's task was to look at a problem situation in a positive light. So I took the pain that I'd stewed in most of yesterday and went back to viewing it the way He does.

Before I moved, I had a pretty good hold on the positive. It was clear that He was directing me to go, right down to the date I was supposed to leave town. I didn't understand why it needed to be so soon, why it couldn't wait until my son started college in the fall. But when His direction is clear, you have to move or live to regret that you didn't. His direction WAS clear, and the last thing I wanted was to be wandering around for 40 years.

(I may not have that long.)

I was confused about the timing and my heart hurt at the leaving. But my hope in the eventual outcome He had in mind was strong. And so I left, to start this new book of my life. And now I am dealing with the consequences of the move, some of which I expected, others of which are surprises.

This morning I thought about the Israelites as they left Egypt. I realized that some of them probably stayed behind, afraid to go when they were called. Angry that their loved ones would be so foolish as to follow a God they could not see, based solely on a series of events which merely seemed miraculous. I imagined their judgments, their sneering harshness, their hurt, their turmoil.

How could they possibly understand such apparent lunacy?

But look at the outcome.

And so I am comforted by the reality of time. I know, despite the moments or hours or days of painful wondering, that time will reveal what needs to be revealed. That light will fall. That the ones left behind, or watching from distant lands, will come to understand and see the beauty of the unfolding.

In the meantime, I wait.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Affirmation of love despite

I've been thinking about John's account of the resurrection, and (as often happens) saw something I'd not noticed before. I'd never focused on the fact that Joseph of Arimathea kept his discipleship a secret out of fear of the Jews.

It is amazing and encouraging to realize how patient God is with us. He allowed this man, who did not have the courage to proclaim his love and fidelity publicly, to play such a pivotal role in the Gospel narrative.

I wonder what he went on to do afterward? I wonder what transformation must have occurred through such a profound affirmation of His approval and love?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Confluence of theological concepts ala Anne Rice

I am reading Anne Rice's Of Love and Evil. It is interesting to see her turn back to her fascination with the darker things after having returned to Christ. In previous posts I think I commented on missing that element in her works on Jesus' life.

This title makes it clear that despite leaving the Church, her faith is still strong and still strongly Catholic, with some interesting twists including perhaps a touch of the charismatic.

I'm not finished with it yet, but it is essentially a tale of redemption from past evil. A man experiences some attributes of heaven before being brought back to earth to help restore unbalanced situations and to grow in love through acts of heroism. I think she might be playing with the idea of how purgatory works, perhaps coupled with reincarnation. The hero isn't actually reborn, but the concept is similar.

One interesting question if this IS a conceptualization of purgatory is the spiritual temptation that continues to plague him while on missions. Clearly not a Catholic concept.

The book seems to be written with plans for a prequel. I'm looking forward to it. While not high literature, it is theologically thought provoking in an easily digestible format.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reaching for completeness

From Of Love and Evil:

"You can't know how mysterious it is to us, the way that humans love, yearning for completeness. Each angel is complete. Men and women on Earth are never complete, but when they reach for that completion in love, they reach for Heaven."

--Anne Rice

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One-winged angels

We are all of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.

--Luciano de Crescenzo

Monday, March 14, 2011

Not rock to bread, but bread to Body

Sunday's readings included Matthew's account of Satan tempting Jesus in the desert, starting at verse 4:1:

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

I've read this passage a number of times throughout the years, without noticing the Eucharistic overtones. On Sunday I finally saw the connection but only through the last line, when I thought about Christ being THE Word, our bread, the bread of heaven.

Last night in reading it again, another piece of the Eucharistic message came through, in the words of the tempter himself.

He is jealous, Old Hairy Legs. He disdains humanity but also envies us. We humans co-operate with the Father in creating new eternal souls, something the angels can never do. Their numbers are finite, ours increase until the end of time. He doesn't like that, and yet he also looks down on our incarnation, our embodiedness. And so he tries to speak to what he perceives as fleshly weakness; Christ's hunger.

At the same time the devil seems to be hoping to lure Him into an action for which it is not yet time. He says "Go ahead, turn a stone into bread."

Jesus, of course, says no. He says that He will not turn rocks into bread, He will instead transform bread into Himself. He knows we cannot live on bread alone, not even bread that was miraculously changed from lifeless stone.

We need more.

We need bread become Word. We need Eucharist.

It awes me to continue finding these Eucharistic messages throughout the Bible, waiting to be unveiled.

(Click here for more ponderings on Satan's jealousy of humanity.)

Hope becomes reality

Falling in love is when hope becomes reality.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Take off your shoes

Earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God. And only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What more can I want?

From The Handmaid's Tale:

Pleasure is an egg. Blessings that can be counted, on the fingers of one hand. If I have an egg, what more can I want?

What should they regard as too obscene?

From That Hideous Strength:

Despair of objective truth had been increasingly insinuated into the scientists: indifference to it, and a concentration upon mere power, had been the result. ... Dreams of the far future destiny of man were dragging up from its shallow and unquiet grave the old dream of man as God. The very experiences of the dissecting room and the pathological laboratory were breeding a conviction that the stifling of all deep-set repugnances was the first essential for progress. ... What should they find incredible, since they believed no longer in a rational universe? What should they regard as too obscene, since they held that all morality was a mere subjective by-product of the physical and economic situations of men? The time was ripe. From the point of view which is accepted in Hell, the whole history of our Earth had led up to this moment.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

La Sacre de la femme -- Eve

I stumbled upon part of the poem below in a book on Rodin at a friend's home recently, and have had trouble finding it in English. The translated text below is a mix of a partial English version I found online, and a translation provided by iGoogle. (The robo-translated piece is the second section, in case you can't tell.) The original French follows for those who can read it.

Eve offered the blue sky of the holy nakedness;
Eve blonde admired the dawn, her sister rosy.

Flesh of woman! clay ideal! O wonder!
Sublime penetration of the spirit
In the silt that ineffable Being kneaded!
Matter where the soul shines through his shroud!
Mud where we see the fingers of the divine sculptor!
August dust drawing kisses and the heart of man
So holy that no one knows, as love triumphs,
As the core is thrust into this mysterious bed,
If this pleasure is not a thought,
And we can not, at which the senses are on fire
Hold beauty without embracing God!
Eve let his eyes wander over nature.

And beneath the green palms to tall,
Eve around above his head, the eye
Seemed to think, the blue lotus is collected,
The fresh forget-me remembered; roses
Sought his feet with their lips half-closed;
A breath came out of brotherly gilt lilies;
As if that would have been sweet to be like them,
As if those flowers, all with a soul
The most beautiful woman in flourished.


Ève offrait au ciel bleu la sainte nudité ;
Ève blonde admirait l'aube, sa soeur vermeille.

Chair de la femme ! argile idéale ! ô merveille !
Pénétration sublime de l'esprit
Dans le limon que l'Être ineffable pétrit !
Matière où l'âme brille à travers son suaire !
Boue où l'on voit les doigts du divin statuaire !
Fange auguste appelant le baiser et le coeur,
Si sainte, qu'on ne sait, tant l'amour est vainqueur,
Tant l'âme est vers ce lit mystérieux poussée,
Si cette volupté n'est pas une pensée,
Et qu'on ne peut, à l'heure où les sens sont en feu,
Étreindre la beauté sans croire embrasser Dieu !
Ève laissait errer ses yeux sur la nature.

Et, sous les verts palmiers à la haute stature,
Autour d'Ève, au-dessus de sa tête, l'oeillet
Semblait songer, le bleu lotus se recueillait,
Le frais myosotis se souvenait ; les roses
Cherchaient ses pieds avec leurs lèvres demi-closes ;
Un souffle fraternel sortait du lys vermeil ;
Comme si ce doux être eût été leur pareil,
Comme si de ces fleurs, ayant toutes une âme,
La plus belle s'était épanouie en femme.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Talent for insatiability

From The Handmaid's Tale:

We yearned for the future. How did we learn it, that talent for insatiability?

Beauty for another

From That Hideous Strength:

At the very moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose, clouded with some undefined emotion, a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in doing so she would be really giving it to the Director. And this produced in her such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience... she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. ... And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation--it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity--that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed. In such a mood it was only natural, after the old countryman had got out at Cure Hardy, to stand up and look at herself in the mirror which confronted her on the wall of the compartment. Certainly she was looking well: she was looking unusually well. And once more, there was little vanity in this. For beauty was made for others. Her beauty belonged to the Director. It belonged to him so completely that he could even decide not to keep it for himself but to order that it be given to another, by an act of obedience lower, and therefore higher, more unconditional and therefore more delighting, than if he had demanded it for himself."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Infinite throws out the elected invention

From That Hideous Strength:

To those high creatures whose activity builds what we call nature, nothing is "natural." From their station the essential arbitrariness (so to call it) of every actual creation is ceaselessly visible; for them there are no basic assumptions: all springs with the wilful beauty of a jest or a tune from that miraculous moment of self-limitation wherein the Infinite, rejecting a myriad possibilities, throws out of himself the positive and elected invention.

On equality

From That Hideous Strength:

"Yes, we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another's greed, because we are fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know." ... "It is not your fault. They never warned you. No one has ever told you tht obedience--humility--is an erotic necessity. You are putting equality just where it ought not to be." ... "But you see that obedience and rule are more like a dance than a drill--specially between man and woman where the roles are always changing."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ode to a walled garden

From That Hideous Strength:

Freud said we liked gardens because they were symbols of the female body. But that must be a man's point of view. Presumably gardens meant something different in women's dreams. Or did they? Did men and women both feel interested in the female body and even, though it sounded ridiculous, in almost the same way? A sentence rose to her memory. "The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male, and it is no accident that the goddess of Love is older and stronger than the god."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Resurrection: Third Eucharist

Last week at mass the idea sprang into my mind that there is a connection between the empty tomb and the consecrated Eucharist. I wasn't sure what that meant because the connection is not immediately obvious. It only became clear after I'd taken some time to meditate about it.

In both cases, there is nothing divine present at first. All we see are the accidents of linen wrappings, of bread and wine. Then suddenly there is more. Suddenly He is present again, present in resurrected Body.

For some moments in the tomb He was there only as an empty shell, a mere husk, a hollow image of His fullness. Then suddenly, in a silent moment like that at the annunciation, the miraculous happens again. The Holy Spirit returns as Animus and the Word is re-made into resurrected, glorified flesh to dwell among us.

At the consecration it happens again. The Holy Spirit acts, carrying the laws of nature beyond their constraints into fulfillment to transform the Word once more into His bodily presence.

I've concluded that this miraculous generation takes place three times in the Gospels.

First at the annunciation, when the Holy Spirit falls upon Mary, and Christ becomes flesh for the first time.

Second, at the last supper, when the Holy Spirit transforms the bread and wine into His Body and Blood. When Jesus initiates the sacrament, and instructs His apostles to Do This in remembrance of Him.

Third, at the Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit re-animates Christ into His new bodily form.

After this, the apostles take over, following Jesus' instructions. And so it continues even now, at each mass, when the Holy Spirit descends again to perform the miraculous transformation.

I am so blessed to be Catholic, to recognize how the central reality of our faith is present through each of these key Gospel accounts and to participate as the blessed Trinity continues to re-present this reality to us at each Eucharist.

Amen credo. Amen credo.

Laughing for wonder and delight

The tragedies that now blacken and darken the very air of heaven for us, will sink into their places in a scheme so august, so magnificient, so joyful, that we shall laugh for wonder and delight.

--Arthur Christopher Bacon

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soul Kiss

The Gospel reading for today is as follows:

Jesus left the district of Tyre and went by way of Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, into the district of the Decapolis. And people brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” (that is, “Be opened!”) And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mk 7:31-37)

Two of my beloved sisters in Christ mulled through this passage with me this morning. It is an honor and pleasure to discuss His word with them; their insights are always varied, perceptive, and interesting.

I've always loved the sacramental juiciness of this story. It reminds me of Jesus healing the blind man using mud made from spittle and dust in John 9. I wonder why He sometimes heals with a thought or a word or a simple touch, and sometimes through the use of other matter? In this case, He passes along His spit.

How strange.

My first thought was that it is like a kiss. A passionate kiss.

Spittle is transmitted one of three ways: through a sneeze, through the occasional droplet flung when speaking, or through open mouthed kissing. The first two require a perfect storm of invariably accidental events; the recipient waits with an open mouth, the provider unintentionally launches. The third however is a dance between willing participants.

The deaf mute watched what Jesus did. He felt Jesus' fingers in his ears. He saw Him spit on His hand and then reach for his mouth. He could have clamped his jaws shut, refusing the gift. He could have gone back to the multitude able to hear but still not speak. But he didn't turn his head in repugnance. He received God's kiss.

In return for his trust, what did he get?

The deaf mute's ears were opened to sound, and his mind was opened to meaning through words.


His tongue was freed from it's impediment, and taught to form words.


He did not have to learn all these things over years as we do as babies. He began to speak plainly, clearly. Our Lord implanted in him all he needed to know.

And as DiDi pointed out, the first words he heard were those of his Lord and his God, undoubtedly speaking of His love for His child and brother, the man for whom His Spirit groaned.

What gifts He gives us in response to our obedience and trust.

May I always act with similar faith.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

To bring her all these things and watch her eat

I love this passage, both for the floridity of it's food list, and for it's tenderness. It reminds me of some of Chantelle's fruit poetry...

From The Cookbook Collector:

Sentimentally, he thought of Jess. Irrationally, he imagined her. Sadly, he despaired of having her. But this was not a question of pursuit. ... His fantasies were nurturing, not predatory. If he could have Jess, he would feed her. Laughable, antique, confusingly paternal, he longed to nourish her with clementines, and pears in season, fresh whole-wheat bread and butter, wild strawberries, Comte cheese, fresh figs ad oily Marcona almonds, tender yellow beets. He would sear red meat, if she would let him and grill spring lamb. Cut the thorns off artichokes and dip the leaves in fresh aioli, poach her fish--thick Dover sole in wine and shallots--julienne potatoes, and roast a whole chicken with lemon slices under the skin. He would serve a salad of heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and just picked basil. Serve her and watch her savor dinner, pour for her, and watch her drink. That would be enough for him. To find her plums in season, and perfect nectarines, velvet apricots, dark succulent duck. To bring her all these things and watch her eat.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Cracked with the strain

While journeying home
I dream of a house
and in the house a room
and in the room a table
and on the table a wooden bowl
cracked with the strain of containing.

Fruit of all kinds;
pineapples spike the air with tropical promise
electric oranges, juice ready to burst
at the pressure of my teeth
apples and pears wafting harvest
pomegranates ripe with seed
berries fragrant and fragile
lemons shining yellow
dates dark with syrup
mango lush as a woman’s hip
peaches cleft with down
figs, densely feminine
bananas curved in arcs of invitation
grapes promising wine.

Their scents assail me
a cloud of seduction
whispering to be touched;
smooth and bare
furred and soft
rough and scratching.

Desire stunned, I gape
Though I didn’t know I was hungry
I want to tear off peels
and break off pieces
stuffing my mouth
in a frenzy of feasting.
And after that initial ravishment
to slowly quiet
my still-burning appetite
one fruit
one bite
at a time.

I close my eyes
and the image lingers
thirsting to be consumed.

But mine is not this feast.
Though I stretch out my hand
it is beyond my reach.
I can’t let it touch my lips
nor steal a bite
nor feel the tender flesh melting on my tongue.

Mine is to hunger.
The fruit at which I can but stare and breathe
a promise;
the gift not in the eating
but in the yearning.

While journeying home
I dream of a house
and in the house a room
and in the room a table
and on the table a wooden bowl
cracked with the strain of containing.

--Chantelle Franc

There is such a thing as excellence

From The Cookbook Collector:

There is such a thing as excellence, and I do know it when I see it, and when I find it I am fulfilled. I don't want to keep on hunting endlessly. If I'm restless, that's not because I want to be or because I can't help it. I'm not chronically dissatisfied; I've been disappointed. There's a difference. When I discover something beautiful and right and rare, I'm happy. I'm content. I am..."

--Allegra Goodman

Friday, January 28, 2011

Much sweeter than the kiss itself

From The Cookbook Collector:

His lips touched hers. So this is kissing, she thought. She couldn't taste anything. It wasn't that kind of kiss. It was the kind that hung in the air, beautiful and abstract, like a theorem to contemplate. The moment afterward was lovely, much sweeter than the kiss itself. They could breathe again.

--Allegra Goodman

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Because she could not dissolve herself

From The Cookbook Collector:

When he touched her and stroked her face, all the longing of the past weeks eased. Or did it? Even as they kissed, she missed the kiss before, and the one before that. How strange the way every moment contained and at the same time hollowed out the last. She thought she should be satisfied, but she wasn't. Why? Because she could not dissolve herself.

--Allegra Goodman

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hungering for the beautiful and authentic

From The Cookbook Collector:

He had established bulwarks of skepticism against disappointment. And yet he hungered for the beautiful, and the authentic--those volumes and experiences impossible to duplicate. How sad, he thought, that desire found new objects but did not abate, that when it came to longing there was no end.

--Allegra Goodman

Monday, January 24, 2011

New blog on writing

Hello to any of my readers who check in periodically to see if I've begun writing here again. I'm keeping the blog up for when I write on topics that fit this venue, though I've been instructed for the time being to focus my writing elsewhere. Interesting, His instructions, particularly when they don't line up with what you'd assume He'd want...

I will be writing under a variation of my maiden name, and if you'd care to pop in periodically to see how things are going, feel free to check out (

Lifting you in prayer now...