Monday, September 7, 2020

People of the Book? Yes and No...

Fr. John administering the Oil of Chrism
to my Mother in 2014.
This Labor Day I’d like to honor the work my late Pastor John Winfrey by reposting a blog he wrote years ago.  I can no longer find it on the Internet and this writing has had a profound impact on my life so I share it in hopes that it will bless you as well.
____________

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK
(By Fr. John Winfrey circa 2013)

I have heard many speak of Christianity as “people of the book”. The phrase, of course, comes from Islam’s reference to us in the earlier parts of the Qur’an. Over the centuries, there are many who have embraced that notion because everything was boiled down to the Bible alone in the 16th century. If it’s not in the Bible, then it can’t be true. We have all heard that sort of argumentation. But are the Muslims right about us? Are we really the people of the book?
Yes and no. Yes, the Scriptures are a very important part of who we are. It is one of the many ways through which Christ reveals himself to us. My patron Saint, John Chrysostom, encouraged everyone to read the Scriptures daily — this at a time when very few could possibly own their own copy because they were so expensive as they were all hand copied. The Scriptures do indeed form a part of our “daily bread.” But we, as Christians, are not created by the Bible. While the argument that Christianity is defined by the Bible, directed by it, and finds its reason for being in it, is something that is very attractive to some, it is not a complete understanding.
An image from the Gospel Book of Kells
As important as the Scriptures are, and they are, they were written after the day of Pentecost when theChurch was established. What establishes the Church is the life of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Godhead as unique and complete as the Father and the Son. God the Holy Spirit is the one who is the source of the Church’s life. In fact, it is he who inspired those who wrote the Scriptures as well as those who selected what books would be contained in the Christian Scriptures (which only occurs in the mid-4th century).
The fact is that when we bring someone forward to be baptized, we don’t give them a Bible quiz to see if they know the Faith. We ask them to recite the Nicene Creed. The Creed can be supported by the Scriptures without a doubt. But even before we ask the candidate to recite the Creed, the priest blows into the candidate’s face showing the creative work of the Holy Spirit. (The word for spirit and breath are the same in Greek and Arabic.) Thus, it is only through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that a person can profess the Creed. We ought not to be surprised by this for even the Scriptures say that no one can confess Christ as Lord without the Holy Spirit. In Baptism the Holy Spirit recreates us in the font and joins us to Christ, and then seals us in Chrismation. Yes, Scriptures are read in Baptism — a lot of it. But it is the Holy Spirit that makes us Christian. Even the name “Christian”, or “anointed one” refers to it; we are anointed by the Holy Spirit, changed into something entirely different.
Christianity is defined not by a book, or actually a collection of books in the Bible, but by the work of the person of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is essentially a relationship with the Living God, and even more, it is communion with the Holy Trinity being made a partaker in the life of Christ. To say we are “people of the book” denies this critical characteristic and it inclines us to think in terms of legalism.
If a book defines us, then we must learn the book in detail — like a case book of law — if we are to know who we are. We should be able to quote chapter and verse to counter everything around us. If a book defines us, then we are constrained to formalism and law. There is no joy in this because we are then merely subjects of a system of regulations.
But this is not the case, thank God! The Scriptures support us and they teach us, but not like a law. They become bread rather than legal prescript. Christians are “people of the Spirit,” if we really want to be exact.
Now, before I go too far, let me say that yes there are rules of precept in the Church. No, we don’t change the meaning of the Scripture, or say that the early Church understood things differently because they were trapped or not as enlightened or other such thing. We are faithful to what God has revealed in the Scriptures and do not alter one word of it. The rules we have are for our salvation, not as a matter of law. If someone disagrees with a rule, then the chances are he doesn’t understand its purpose and how it is applied. In these cases the only reasonable thing is to speak to one’s priest to resolve the question. One may also misunderstand the Faith and so misunderstand the rules of the Church. This is another reason why the priest should be consulted. It is silly and immature to not ask, especially if one decides to sulk and back off like a child whose feelings are hurt. Adults come forward and ask honestly, without anger or pugnacity, so they can actually clarify things. Priests also have to ask questions of those who are better informed on questions so there is no shame in doing this. It is part of being a human being, we don’t have all of the answers ourselves.
The Scriptures guide us into a deeper life in the Holy Spirit, since they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They challenge us and comfort us. But they do so because of the Holy Spirit. You have all heard me commend the daily reading of Scriptures to you. I follow my patron Saint in this admonition and it is so easy for you to have your own copy to do this. You know that I find power in the Scriptures, but I must tell you that we are not people of the book. Never fall into that mindset. We are people of the Spirit, who is alive and a genuine person of the Trinity. We are filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that we might live. He makes us something that we could never be. Saint Peter, the great apostle, wrote very clearly what we are, and it is not people of the book. He says:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures. Look for the face of Christ in the Old Testament. But never confuse looking at letters on a page with our purpose. Always remember our lives are found in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.
________________
This blog of Fr. John's was copied and edited by me years ago.  It may not be perfectly intact or exactly what he posted.  I know I made some spelling and syntax corrections for sure, but beyond that I cannot remember.  I do believe it represents quite accurately what he was trying to communicate.  Praying it blesses many souls even in its imperfect form.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Gift that May Help You Meditate on Jesus

I've shared previously that years before I crossed the Bosphorus or the Tiber into the more universal strains of the Way of Jesus, I embraced an ancient technique that aided me greatly in meditating on the most important events in His life.  As part of that technique, Icons helped a lot both with maintaining focus and being drawn into beauty. However, at the time I was an Evangelical, and I was shocked to find myself praying the Holy Rosary with the aid of icons and enjoying it!  You can see more of that story by clicking here if you are curious.

Today I'd like to share a tiny development in my practice of praying these meditations daily.  I used to have a set of 5 icons on my car dash that helped me think of the 5 key events that the Church chose for us to collectively think about for that day.  I would switch it each day to the appropriate set of meditations (there is a logical sequence of 20 total key events), however, I found that this flimsy paper contraption got lost easily and more importantly, wasn't always with me so that I'd be able to pray it whenever I wanted as time allowed.

The next thing I started doing was recording the meditations and putting them on my iPhone.  If I couldn't take time to stop everything and pray, at least I could do it on the go which is better than not praying at all I suppose.  I've given up doing things perfectly and any connection with Jesus is better than none in my experience.  

I recorded them in the sing-song E major chant that I intone most of my prayers daily.  This just flows and works so much better for me and I find myself able to focus longer singing/chanting than just saying prayers.  Doing this I could listen and pray along with my bluetooth headset, which I have on me much of the day, or play them through my car audio system.

However,... I really missed the beautiful woodcut icons that I used to look at.  I missed not only the beauty of them but the way they sustained my attention.  So what to do?

Welp!... Hmmmm... 

[NOTE:  As some of you know, I obtained permission from the Christianica Center in Chicago who published the "Scriptural Rosary" booklet to use the icons from it freely to promote the saying of these prayers among Christians.  So I've been using them for prayer cards made to help both Protestants and Catholics think of Jesus and say a prayer.]

And then something clicked... wouldn't it be easy enough to add the icons as album art for the .mp3 file?  Turns out it was quite easy and it works great!  As I'm praying the Rosary meditations, the appropriate album cover art displays on my phone screen.  I find that very helpful and engaging.

So I'm giving them to you all.  I've done the version that Catholics have been using for centuries first.  That is in my singsong chant.  I recorded the version for Evangelicals with spoken prayer because in my experience chant was quite foreign to me when I was in that fold.

Now keep in mind that you'll have to be a tiny bit savvy on your phone (or tablet or computer) to make this work.  You'll first have to know how to put music on your device and get things in the order you like (I use playlists for this).  Have your kids or grandkids help you :D

A note about my chanting in E major.  It isn't for everyone and I'm no professional.  My journey through the Byzantine fold tends to make me chant faster than many would like (at times others have referred to it as a machine gun pace... it wasn't a compliment lol).  But if you can endure a few rounds of it, perhaps it would inspire you to make a version of your own, or at least download the icons themselves and use them while you say the Rosary at your own pace in your own voice.


Click here to go to the folder that contains all the Rosary sound files that include the icons.  Each of the four sets has six recordings, the introductory prayers are in number 0, the first key event (mystery) is number 1, etc. all the way to number 5.


Click here if you prefer to just use the Rosary icons as visual aids in your photos folder on your computer, tablet or phone.


Click here if you prefer to use the Evangelical version.  Each of the four sets has six recordings, the introductory prayers are in number 0, the first key event (mystery) is number 1, etc. all the way to number 5.

In this version instead of snippets of scripture like the Hail Mary prayer, I simply say "Let's pause to think of Jesus who embraced the Father's will in the garden for our sake", for example.  

Trust me, I do understand first hand how saying the scripture from the first chapter of Luke verses 28, 42 and 43 over and over can be unnerving to those uninitiated in meditation (see my post on "Un-Vain Repetition").  In the spiritual tradition of my childhood even thinking of Mary as the Mother of God except for at Christmas time was seen as odd.  So I am accommodating you that feel like I have felt about that and inviting you to meditate on Jesus without those portions of scripture inserted each time.  I think God is pleased when we think about Him and His Son and His Holy Spirit in a good light and so is Jesus' Momma Mary, for she ALWAYS leads people to Him and says, "Do whatever He tells you".


Click here if you prefer to simply use the meditation icons I customized for Evangelicals as visual aids alone.




Sunday, August 30, 2020

Focus on the Light

I believe that there has never been a more opportune time in my life to point to the Light of Christ than now, amid the darkness, uncertainty and turmoil that threaten to overwhelm us daily.  The darker it gets, the brighter the Light of Jesus Shines.  I found myself just watching the quotes at the top of this blog last night and being soothed and affirmed that now is not the time to take my eyes off Jesus and focus only on the world's problems.  In fact, if I do that, I won't be able to channel His light, love, peace, joy, kindness and mercy to others... I am what I eat and if I don't eat and drink God daily and moment by moment, I'll have nothing good to give others.

Last week I was praying at the end of mass and crying out to God because I felt I had to go comfort a friend and I just couldn't do it.

Me: "Lord, I don't have any peace to give them, help me!"

God: "Son, you were never expected to generate peace on your own.  I AM your peace!  Now just go there and be with them.  I will flow MY peace through you to them."

Me: "Ok Lord, what a relief that I don't have to conjure up peace or goodness on my own!"

So I showed up and I channeled Christ who is our peace to that friend in need.  But honestly, I could not have done it if I hadn't went to the place I felt most at home in this world, fed on God and focused on His light and goodness.

With that being said, I want to share all the quotes about light once more in a list form... the ones in motion at the top of this page.  I hope they bless you and challenge you to focus on the source of all light and goodness in this world so you can in turn channel that light.  Blessings!

1 - Darkness is just a speck in the light
King’s X - 1990

2 - Light unshared is darkness.
George MacDonald - 1892

3 - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
St. John the Apostle - circa 100 AD

4 - Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
William L. Watkinson - 1907

5 - Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr. - 1957

6 - So shines a good deed in a weary world.
William Shakespeare - 1600

7 - His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
St. Matthew the Apostle - circa 70 AD

8 - The same sun which melts wax hardens clay.
Charles Spurgeon - 1881

9 - Light of the world shine on me, love is the answer.
Todd Rundgren - 1977

10 - I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.
Jesus of Nazareth - circa 30 AD

11 - Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.
Desiderius Erasmus - circa 1500

12 - To love beauty is to see light.
Victor Hugo - Circa 1860

13 - This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.
Harry Dixon Loes - circa 1920

14 - Luminous beings are we.
Yoda - Long, long ago

15 - Light is to darkness what love is to fear; in the presence of one the other disappears.
Marianne Williamson - 2008

16 - The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
King David - circa 1000 BC

17 - Darn floor - big bite, You are love, fire and light!
Daniel Amos - 1987

18 - God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
St. John the Apostle - circa 90 AD

19 - Never fear shadows. They simply mean there's a light shining somewhere nearby.
Author Unknown (attributed to Ruth E. Renkel for whom information is quite elusive)

20 - In this place no candle burns for the Lamb shall be our light.
Terry Scott Taylor - Circa 1990 

21 - See the light in others, and treat them as if that is all you see. 
Wayne Dyer - 2005

22 - Aziz!  Light!  Much better.  Thank you, Aziz.
Professor Pacoli - 1914

23 - What is to give light must endure burning. 
Viktor Frankl - 1946

24 - Let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
St. Paul the Apostle - Circa 58 AD

25 - We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.
Ernest Hemingway / Leonard Cohen - 1929 / 1992

26 - Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. 
Maori Proverb

27 - Light is good from whatever lamp it shines. 
Author Unknown

28 - The light in me honors the light in you.
Farmer's favorite take on Sanskrit: Namaste

29 - A child afraid of the dark?  Expected.  An adult afraid of the light?  Troubling.
Home grown from web seeds.

30 - In Thy light shall we see light.
King David - Circa 1000 BC


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Where is your home?

I have had many homecomings in the past decade or so.  The first was into a version of my faith where I could eat and drink God, literally and simultaneously mystically.  I was so famished for that sort of intimate connection and honestly, there is no turning back to another form of the faith.  I am home.

My second great homecoming was in 2014 when I found a recovery group and got sober and eventually more and more well.  I am so grateful for that group of people because they just get me.  I find I don't have to explain myself to them, for while the outward forms of compulsive behaviors that we are battling my differ, on the inside we are family.  

These two homecomings have changed my internal landscape.  I no longer think the way I used to.  Eventually, time will tell if my little actions of love change my external landscape and bless others.  That is not for me to evaluate however.

What I have been finding more and more precious are the little homecomings I am blessed to experience several times per week.  I am extremely fortunate to be able to partake in Holy Communion sometimes 4-5 times in any given week.  This has become where I feel most at home.

Jewel the Unicorn said it so well in the CS Lewis tale called "The Last Battle":

"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…. Come further up, come further in!"


Father Jim also said it well this past Friday in his homily.  I was there and was blessed to be the Eucharistic Minister that day.  I can with great conviction affirm that being in that place of such intimacy, where God lowers Himself so insanely low to become our food and drink, I felt more home than I ever have before.  That is my native place, the place that I've been looking for all my life and only now am realizing it.

Enjoy the highlights of Fr. Jim's homily by clicking here, you may find it well worth your time :D 



Monday, June 8, 2020

The Upside Down, A World Passing Away

Not long ago I took the plunge into one of the most popular Netflix series and not unlike others fell instantly in love with the adorable kids that are actually the lead characters of the series.  Add to that a plot and elements that are, to me at least, quintessentially intriguing and you have binge material.

In this story, the upside down world of monsters and mayhem starts breaking into the right-side up world that we live in.  It is simply terrifying to think about and would be more so if not for the adorable cast.

Here is the thing.  I believe the tale opens up for us the reality we are living in right now.  With one major catch.

The creators of Stranger Things have it all upside down.

The way I see it and the way most of the great teachers of the Christian Way (including it's founder) have presented our current situation is that we are currently living in the upside down.  Christ came to pull us into the right-side up.

Makes sense of the current situation of monsters and mayhem, yes?

Of course, yes.

Bishop Barron touched on it today in his Gospel homily on the beatitudes, that strange, seemingly upside down set of statements by our Lord Jesus.

MATTHEW 5:1-12

Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus goes up a mountain and sits down to teach. In the Old Testament, we find Moses, the great teacher, also going up a mountain to receive the Law, and then sitting down to teach it. However, Jesus is not receiving a law; he is giving one.

Theologian N.T. Wright has pointed out that the Old Testament is essentially an unfinished symphony. It is the articulation of a hope but without a realization of that hope. Thus, as the fulfillment of Israel’s entire story, Jesus begins his primary teaching with the Beatitudes, a title that stems from the Latin noun beātitūdō, meaning "happy" or "blessed."

Through this series of paradoxes, surprises, and reversals, Jesus begins setting a topsy-turvy universe aright. How should we understand them? A key is the Greek word makarios, rendered "blessed" or "happy" or perhaps even "lucky," which is used to start each of the Beatitudes.

And so, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." We might say, "How lucky you are if you are not addicted to material things." Here Jesus is telling us how to realize our deepest desire, which is the desire for God and not for passing things that only bring temporary comfort.

So how do we get into the right-side up other than just being lucky or blessed?

Fr. Jim (Priest at St. Thomas the Apostle here in Grand Rapids) commented in his homily today that many would try to take these words of Jesus and see them as a new set of prescriptions or commandments to set in front of us daily and commit to following them.  He made it quite clear that this is a mistaken notion.

Rather, these beatitudes are the fruits of being connected with Jesus.  In fact that is the "new law of Loving connection" that Jesus was teaching us.  If I am connected with Jesus, then even though I live in an upside down world, I will more and more be turned right-side up, for Christ our God is right-side up and he starts breathing His Spirit of Love into us and through us.

As I was watching the St. Thomas mass this morning with all the people wearing their masks because of the pandemic, it was a striking image to see those distributing the Precious Body of Christ wearing a mask like a surgeon - passing to us needy souls the medicine of immortality.  The medicine that draws us into the right-side up literally and spiritually, connecting us into the eternal right-side up Kingdom of God the Father.

I find great hope and comfort from this.  The Kingdom of God is breaking into the world both in the future AND now.  For now it is the eternal breaking into the temporal in a most subtle manner.  It is quite a covert operation and it is unstoppable.

I'll quote the prophet Tbone Burnett once more...

This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone, it is already gone.





Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sorrow and Hope

My sorrow was turned to hope this morning.  I am grateful for that.  First the sorrow…

Sadness of late has flooded my soul as I’ve watched events unfold.  It triggered the classic Bob Dylan lyric “who gonna take away his license to kill?” in my heart, and really, can anyone say it better?  Seriously, just read and listen to these lyrics.  Poetic genius!!
License to Kill
(from the album Infidels recorded in 1983)

Man thinks 'cause he rules the earth he can do with it as he please
And if things don't change soon, he will
Oh, man has invented his doom
First step was touching the moon

Now, there's a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, they take him and they teach him and they groom him for life
And they set him on a path where he's bound to get ill
Then they bury him with stars
Sell his body like they do used cars

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there facin' the hill
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Now, he's hell-bent for destruction, he's afraid and confused
And his brain has been mismanaged with great skill
All he believes are his eyes
And his eyes, they just tell him lies

But there's a woman on my block
Sitting there in a cold chill
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

Ya may be a noisemaker, spirit maker
Heartbreaker, backbreaker,
Leave no stone unturned
May be an actor in a plot
That might be all that you got
'Till your error you clearly learn

Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool
And when he sees his reflection, he's fulfilled
Oh, man is opposed to fair play
He wants it all and he wants it his way

Now, there's a woman on my block
She just sit there as the night grows still
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

_______________


And then, I woke up this morning to three Psalms in my office of readings.  Pretty much the groundwork for the song above.  

Wow.  Just WOW!  Thanks Papa!

________________

Psalm 9B (10)
Thanksgiving

“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk 6:20).

The Lord will protect the rights of the oppressed.

Lord, why do you stand afar off
 and hide yourself in times of distress?
The poor man is devoured by the pride of the wicked:
 he is caught in the schemes that others have made.

For the wicked man boasts of his heart’s desires;
 the covetous blasphemes and spurns the Lord.
In his pride the wicked says: ‘He will not punish.
 There is no God.’ Such are his thoughts.

His path is ever untroubled;
 your judgement is far from his mind.
 His enemies he regards with contempt.
He thinks: ‘Never shall I falter:
 misfortune shall never be my lot.’

His mouth is full of cursing, guile, oppression,
 mischief and deceit under his tongue.
He lies in wait among the reeds;
 the innocent he murders in secret.

His eyes are on the watch for the helpless man.
 He lurks in hiding like a lion in his lair;
he lurks in hiding to seize the poor;
 he seizes the poor man and drags him away.

He crouches, preparing to spring,
 and the helpless fall beneath his strength.
He thinks in his heart: ‘God forgets,
 he hides his face, he does not see.’

Glory to the Father and to the Son,
 and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
 and will be for ever. Amen.

The Lord will protect the rights of the oppressed.



Psalm 9B (10)

Lord, you have seen our trouble and our sorrow.

Arise then, Lord, lift up your hand!
 O God, do not forget the poor!
Why should the wicked spurn the Lord
 and think in his heart: ‘He will not punish’?

But you have seen the trouble and sorrow,
 you note it, you take it in hand.
The helpless trusts himself to you;
 for you are the helper of the orphan.

Break the power of the wicked and the sinner!
 Punish his wickedness till nothing remains!
The Lord is king for ever and ever.
 The heathen shall perish from the land he rules.

Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor;
 you strengthen their hearts; you turn your ear
to protect the rights of the orphan and oppressed:
 so that mortal man may strike terror no more.

Glory to the Father and to the Son,
 and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
 and will be for ever. Amen.

Lord, you have seen our trouble and our sorrow.

Psalm 11 (12)
A prayer against the proud

“The Father deigned to send his Son for the sake of us, the poor” (St Augustine).

The words of the Lord are words without alloy, silver from the furnace, seven times refined.

Help, O Lord, for good men have vanished;
 truth has gone from the sons of men.
Falsehood they speak one to another,
 with lying lips, with a false heart.

May the Lord destroy all lying lips,
 the tongue that speaks high-sounding words,
those who say: ‘Our tongue is our strength;
 our lips are our own, who is our master?’

‘For the poor who are oppressed and the needy who groan
 I myself will arise,’ says the Lord,
 ‘I will grant them the salvation for which they thirst.’

The words of the Lord are words without alloy,
 silver from the furnace, seven times refined.

It is you, O Lord, who will take us in your care
 and protect us for ever from this generation.
See how the wicked prowl on every side,
 while the worthless are prized highly by the sons of men.

Glory to the Father and to the Son,
 and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
 and will be for ever. Amen.

The words of the Lord are words without alloy, silver from the furnace, seven times refined.


Psalm-prayer
Your light is true light, Lord, and your truth shines like the day. Direct us to salvation through your life-giving words. May we be saved by always embracing your word.

. The Lord guides his humble in the right path.
. He teaches his way to the poor.

___________


Our heavenly Father knows… he knows and loves us anyway and wants to bring healing to us, if we were but willing.  

Alas, too often I am not willing to surrender to his infinite loving care.  Too often I don’t even trust that He is good.  Too often I have believed the lies of the enemy that tell me God the Father cannot be trusted.

But then there is hope in my heart, for today at Mass I saw some people who do trust in His goodness.  It brought tears of joy to my eyes.

And not just at Mass.  I look at my beloved Margie and her self-sacrificing outpouring of love for her staff, clients and our children.  I listen to her and my children grapple with the current events, groping and struggling to respond with courage and love… and you know what?… that both displays and fills me with hope.

Love wins in the end.  (I cheated and read the end of the book ;D)

I’ll end with lyric from another prophet, T-bone Burnett:

Presidents come and presidents go
They rise like smoke they fall like snow
Do you believe the things you say
Your lofty thoughts are filled with hay
What is this faith that you profess
That led to this colossal mess
When you awaken from this coma
You'll find you were in Oklahoma
When you crawl out of this self delusion
You're going to need a soul transfusion

This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone It is already gone
This version of the world will not be here long
It is already gone It is already gone

(from the song "Palestine Texas" found on the 2006 release entitled "The True False Identity")
Listen to it here


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Ascension Day Reflections

It is coming up on twelve years ago now when I experienced a departure from the faith I had grown up with.  It was a scary time in late 2008 for me.  At that point I honestly didn’t know what I was, I only knew that I was no longer an Evangelical Christian.  It was quite unsettling.

What happened?  I’m not sure.

Perhaps it was the seeds that God had planted from unlikely sources that had finally come to germinate.  

Movies like Stargate, The Fifth Element, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Terminator… any movie that deals with the quirkiness of the space/time continuum come to mind.  

One of my favorite Other-Worldly
recordings of all time
Artists like King’s X, Bruce Cockburn, Daniel Amos/Terry Scott Taylor, The Choir, The Galactic Cowboys, Mortal, Adam Again, T-bone Burnett, U2, Utopia/Todd Rundgren and the 77s seemed to be tapping into some of that same mystery and drawing me in now that I look back on it.

Authors like C.S. Lewis, Stephen R. Lawhead, Madeleine L’Engle, Calvin Miller, George MacDonald, Flannery O’Conner and J.K. Rowling kept calling me back to their transcendent stories again and again… drawn in over and over by their embrace of something that was for me just a bit above and beyond this world.

Yes, out of this world… otherworldliness… that is what kept me going back to these creative works over and over.

And speaking of otherworldliness, growing up in the Church at the very least exposed me to the Gospel of St. John, often touted as the most otherworldly and mystical book of all Christian books.  It is not by accident that the Eagle is the symbol assigned to this gospel, because for me at least, it soars in its mystical content.  

St. John helped me soar
into mystical realities I
had never imagined
It is in this Gospel more than any other that Jesus is cast as a Middle Eastern Mystic, making outrageous claims not only about being God in the flesh but also emphatically insisting that His flesh was real food and HIs blood was real drink and that if we didn’t eat and drink it there would be no life in us. 

Most of the disciples of this Mystic left Him at that point.  And He didn’t call them back trying to explain away the difficult teaching.

This was never pointed out to me in the little Church I grew up in.  In fact I never even considered this reality until 2008.

Perhaps it was then that I was finally ready to hear that passage in all it’s strangeness.  The seeds sown by the great writers and creators above had finally germinated, sprouted, bloomed and were bearing their first real fruits to really bite into.

For me, it was perhaps the mystery of quantum physics that opened the door a crack… and through that crack the light shone through.

It had finally begun to dawn on me that if Jesus really was and is God in the flesh, then everything He did on Earth was somehow both temporal and eternal.  He is the connection between the heavenly and earthly spheres of reality. 
The Jesus/Mary Gate?

He is THE Stargate.

Somehow my mind opened up to the reality that everything He did here occurs eternally.  His Birth, Baptism, Last Supper and Final Discourse in the Upper Room, His Arrest, Torture, Crucifixion, Harrowing of Hell, Resurrection, Ascension and Sending of the Holy Spirit… ALL of these and more are ETERNAL EVENTS.  They happened and are still happening both inside and outside of time.

I wasn’t ready to make that crazy, mystical, sci-fi type leap before 2008.  But something... maybe it was Franky Schaeffer’s nutty book “Crazy for God”... triggered it and after that there was no going back.

Well, what does that mean and how did that so confront my childhood faith tradition that I could no longer adhere to it?

I had been taught that Catholics weren’t really Christians because they sacrificed Jesus over and over on their altars at every mass.  I was also taught that there were a multitude of other very good reasons to disassociate myself with them, not read their literature, not date their women, etc.  In the view of my childhood Church, the Anti-Christ would surely be a Pope and the Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon.

So I more or less steered away from them as I was taught.  Until 2008.

It was then that I realized that perhaps it was a mistake to take that line of thinking.

It was then I realized that they weren’t re-sacrificing Jesus at the Mass, they were actually participating in THE ONE sacrifice... in THE ONE last supper. 

The Mystical Supper of the Lamb
I began to see that at every Mass (or Divine Liturgy as it is called in the Eastern Church) a mind  blowing space-time portal opened and allowed those in attendance to participate in the upper room Seder meal where Jesus offers Himself as bread for the life of the world.

WHOA!!

This changed everything for me.  

From that point on, I have sought to participate in that intimate event every week, more if possible.  As a Catholic, I can open up my Mass app and find the exact space-time coordinates of these portal openings any day of the week, nearly anywhere on earth.  Even now during the Covid pandemic, Bishop Barron and a host of other Priests do live streaming of these portal openings daily.  It isn’t the same as partaking and consuming the precious body and blood of my Savior in person, but in my heart it is no less awesome and I get down on my knees in front of my iPhone during the consecration in wonder.

Wonder and awe.  These are some of the main characteristics of my newfound faith.

I say that now, but for the first several years after discovering this dimension, these multiple portals into the heavens, (or perhaps it is better seen as heaven breaking into earth, the infinite breaking into the finite in multiple places, every day, all over the planet)… I was just angry.

I felt I’d been lied to.  I felt I’d missed out on the most amazing things in the universe for years because of these lies.  I was furious.  

Funny because I also wanted EVERYONE to come with me to see this amazing thing that God does at every Divine Liturgy and Mass on Earth.  Anger and hostility aren’t very attractive.  Nobody followed.  LOL… no surprise there.

But lately, my sponsor in recovery has pointed out the fact that there is big a difference between a lie and mistake.

I was mistaken.  Perhaps I still am.  Perhaps not.  

I believe I have finally found The Truth, The Way and The Life.  I believe He offers Himself to me as food every day if I want it.  Not just metaphorically.  Not just spiritually.  But real food and drink.

For so much of my life I wasn’t even open to considering that I might be mistaken on these matters.  

But then suddenly… I was.  

I am grateful beyond words.  

Even if none of my family, friends or loved ones ever come with me, I am still grateful to be a part of the mystical body of Christ in this new and deeper way.

I am no longer mad at anyone or anything.  I am making every effort to step out of the arena of debate about religion and politics as it is honestly simply toxic to me.  (Though I'm all about a nice civil discussion on faith and life, I don't find many who know how to do such a thing.)

I pray my friends and family that took the brunt of my obnoxious convert phase can forgive me and perhaps just look at me as sadly mistaken about a good many things and love me anyway.

I will return the favor… in fact, I will lead the way into that love.

What lead me to sharing my story today was the mass celebrated this morning in Bishop Barron’s Chapel in Santa Barbara California.  He live streams it every day at 8:15am but you can watch the recording any time.

The homily he delivered today reminded me of all the things I’ve shared in my story above.  I don’t need anyone to read my story or agree with me.  But if you do either I cannot deny it will make my heart glad.

I’ve shared the link to Bishop Barron’s Ascension Day homily below.  Jesus didn’t leave us here as orphans.  He is with us every moment of every day.  Especially awesomely so in the Holy Eucharist.

Pax Christi

Fred

The Homily starts at 7:25, it should open to that point.  Enjoy!