18 March 2023

Solemnity of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Feast of an Icon of Justice

Tomorrow's Feast (observed on Monday this year) is the Solemnity of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One of the lessons we take from Joseph's story is the importance of faithfulness to the presence of God in even the most seemingly mundane parts of our lives. Such faithfulness can allow momentous things to happen and it is through such faithfulness in small, everyday things, that the will of the eternal God to set all things right (that is, the will to do justice) is ultimately done. We don't know lots of stories about Joseph but, we do know that he struggled to discern and do the will of God (hence his attention to dreams). We know too that he committed himself to what God was doing in and through Mary, and that he supported and expressed this through his daily faithfulness both as a husband and father.

Especially poignant, I think, is the Matthean story of Joseph as the icon of one who struggles to allow God's own justice to be brought to birth as fully as possible in his relationship with Mary. It is, in its own way, a companion story to Luke's account of Mary's annunciation and fiat. Both Mary (we are told explicitly) and Joseph (implied not least, by his dream and his attention to that dream) ponder things in their hearts; both are mystified and shaken by the great mystery which has taken hold of them and in which they have become pivotal characters. Both allow God's power and presence to overshadow them -- though in different ways -- so that God might do something qualitatively new in the world. But it is Joseph's more extended, and profoundly faithful struggle to overcome his fear and even some deeply held religious convictions, that is at the heart of those few stories we have about him. In today's Feast, Joseph does justice in mercy, indeed, he reveals the truth that true justice is mercy, thus modeling God's own justice in ways that fulfill OT conceptions of justice and challenge some of our own as well.

The Struggle to Do Justice, the Situation:

I am a little ashamed to say before several years ago, I hadn't spent much time considering Joseph's predicament or the context of that predicament. Instead, I had always thought of him as a good man who chose the merciful legal solution rather than opting for the stricter one available to him. I never saw him making any other choice, nor did I understand the various ways he was pushed and pulled by his own faith and love --- nor his fear! But Joseph's situation was far more demanding and frustrating than I had ever appreciated! Consider the background which weighed heavy on Joseph's heart. First, he is identified as a just or righteous man, a man faithful to God, to the Covenant, a keeper of the Law or Torah, an observant Jew who was well aware of Isaiah's promise and the sometimes bitter history of his own Davidic line. All of this and more is implied here by the term "righteous man". In any case, this represents his most foundational and essential identity. Secondly, he was betrothed to Mary, wed (not just engaged!) to her though he had not yet taken her to his family home and would not for about a year. That betrothal/marriage was a symbol of the covenant between God and his People. Together Joseph and Mary symbolized the Covenant; to betray or dishonor this relationship was to betray and profane the Covenant itself. This too was uppermost in Joseph's mind precisely because he was a righteous man.

Thirdly, he loved Mary and was entirely mystified by her pregnancy. Nothing in his tradition prepared him for a virgin birth. Mary could only have gotten pregnant through intercourse with another man so far as Joseph could have known --- and this despite Mary's protestations of innocence. (The OT passage referring to a virgin is more originally translated as "young woman". Only later as "almah" was translated into the Greek "parthenos" and even later was seen by Christians in light of Mary and Jesus' nativity did "young woman" firmly come to mean  "a virgin".) The history of Israel was fraught with all-too-human failures which betrayed the covenant and profaned Israel's high calling. While Joseph was open to God doing something new in history it is more than a little likely that he was torn between which of these possibilities was actually occurring here, just as he was torn between believing Mary and continuing the marriage and divorcing her and casting her and the child aside.

What Were Joseph's Options?

Under the Law, Joseph had two options. The first involved a very public divorce. Joseph would bring the situation to the attention of the authorities, involve witnesses, repudiate the marriage and patrimony for the child, and cast Mary aside. This would establish Joseph as a wronged man and allow him to continue to be seen as righteous or just. But Mary could have been stoned and the baby would also have died as a result. The second option was more private but also meant bringing his case to the authorities. In this solution, Joseph would again have repudiated the marriage and patrimony but the whole matter would not have become public and Mary's life or that of the child would not have been put in immediate jeopardy. Still, in either instance, Mary's shame and apparent transgressions would have become known and in either case, the result would have been ostracization and eventual death. Under the law Joseph would have been called a righteous man but how would he have felt about himself in his heart of hearts? Would he have wondered if he was just under the Law but at the same time had refused to hear the message of an angel of God, refused to allow God to do something new and even greater than the Law?

Of course, Joseph might have simply done nothing at all and continued with the plans for the marriage's future. But in such a case many problems would have arisen. According to the Law, he would have been falsely claiming paternity of the child --- a transgression of the Law and thus, the covenant. Had the real father shown up in the future and claimed paternity Joseph would then have been guilty of "conniving with Mary's own sin" (as Harold Buetow describes the matter). Again Law and covenant would have been transgressed and profaned. In his heart of hearts, he might have believed this was the just thing to do but in terms of his People and their Covenant and Law, he would have acted unjustly and offended the all-just God. Had he brought Mary to his family home he would have rendered them and their abode unclean as well. If Mary was guilty of adultery she would have been unclean --- hence the need for ostracizing her or even killing her!

Entering the Liminal Place Where God May Speak to Us:

All of this and so much more was roiling around in Joseph's heart and mind! In one of the most difficult situations we might imagine, Joseph struggled to discern what was just and what it would mean for him to do justice in our world! Every option was torturous; each was inadequate for a genuinely righteous man. Eventually, he came to a conclusion that may have seemed the least problematical even if it was not wholly satisfactory, namely to put Mary away "quietly", to divorce her in a more private way, and walk away from her. And at this moment, when Joseph's struggle to discern and do justice has reached its most neuralgic point, at a place of terrible liminality symbolized in so much Scriptural literature by dreaming, God reveals to Joseph the same truth Mary has herself accepted: God is doing something unimaginably new here. He is giving the greatest gift yet. The Holy Spirit has overshadowed Mary and resulted in the conception of One who will be the very embodiment of God's justice in our world. Not only has a young woman come to be pregnant but a virgin will bear a child! The Law will be fulfilled in Him and true justice will have a human face as God comes to be Emmanuel in this new and definitive way.

Joseph's faith response to God's revelation has several parts or dimensions. He decides to consummate the marriage with Mary by bringing her to his family home but not as an act of doing nothing at all and certainly not as some kind of sentimental or cowardly evasion of real justice. Instead, it is a way of embracing the whole truth and truly doing justice. He affirms the marriage and adopts the child as his own. He establishes him in the line of David even as he proclaims the child's true paternity. He does this by announcing this new Son's name to be Jesus, God saves.  Thus Joseph proclaims to the world that God has acted in this Son's birth in a new way that transcends and relativizes the Law even as it completely respects it. He honors the Covenant with a faithfulness that leads to that covenant's perfection in the Christ Event. In all of this, Joseph continues to show himself to be a just or righteous man, a man whose humanity and honor we ourselves should regard profoundly.

Justice is the way to Genuine Future:

Besides being moved by Joseph's genuine righteousness, I am struck by a couple of things in light of all of this. First, discerning and doing justice is not easy. There are all kinds of solutions that are partial and somewhat satisfactory, but real justice takes work and, in the end, must be inspired by the love and wisdom of God. Secondly, Law per se can never really mediate justice. Instead, the doing of justice takes a human being who honors the Law, feels compassion, knows mercy, struggles in fear and trepidation with discerning what is right, and ultimately is open to allowing God to do something new and creative in the situation. Justice is never a system of laws, though it will include these. It is always a personal act of courage and even of worship, the act of one who struggles to mediate God's own plan and will for all those whom that involves. Finally, I am struck by the fact that justice opens reality to a true future. Injustice closes off the future. In all of the partial and unsatisfactory solutions Joseph entertained and wrestled with, each brought some justice and some injustice. Future of some sort was assured for some and foreclosed to others; often both came together in what was merely a sad and tragic approximation of a "real future". Only God's own will and plan assures a genuine future for the whole of his creation. That too is something yesterday's Gospel witnessed to.

Another Look at Joseph:

Joseph is a real star in Matt's account of protecting Jesus' nativity and life beyond that; he points to God and the justice only God can do. It is important, I think, to see all that he represents as Mary's counterpart in the nativity of Jesus (Son of David) who is Emmanuel (God With Us). Mary's fiat seems easy and graceful in more than one sense of that term. Joseph's fiat is hard-won but also graced or graceful. For Joseph, as for Mary, there is real labor involved as the categories of divinity and justice, law and covenant are burst asunder to bring the life and future of heaven to birth in our world. But Joseph with Mary also both lived essentially hidden lives which were faith in all the little and big moments of being spouses and parents --- the vocations that allowed God's will to justice to be accomplished in their Son, Jesus.

May we each be committed to the work of mediating God's own justice and bringing God's future into being especially in this Lenten season. This is the time when we especially look ahead to the coming of the Kingdom of God and attune ourselves in hope to the time when God will be all in all. May we never take refuge in partial and inadequate solutions to our world's problems and need for justice, especially out of shortsightedness, sentimentality, cowardice, evasion, or fear for our own reputations. And may we allow Joseph to be the model of discernment, humility, faithfulness, and courage in mediating the powerful presence and future of God we recognize as justice and which we so yearn for in this 21st Century.

12 March 2023

New Atmospheric River forecast for Tomorrow. New Camaldoli is shut down with Guests Unable to Leave the Hermitage

The newest information (also see update below) from New Camaldoli is that roads are being washed out and closed just north of the hermitage with another atmospheric river being forecast starting tomorrow. Currently (according to Big Sur Kate's blog), there are 8 guests who "need to get out" of the hermitage and immediate environs, but road damage and closures including access to the employees' driveway make that impossible. 

Please keep everyone at the Hermitage and their families in your prayers. The Hermitage is now closed to all visitors and the degree of rain projected beginning tomorrow will be at least as much as dumped by the storms that just finished. Access to the Hermitage could be seriously impacted for some time with roadways already undercut from sliding ground undergoing even further damage as the storms arrive.

Updated pictures 3/14:

As you can tell, the roadway (Hwy 1) just North of New Camaldoli continues to fall away from just a couple of days ago. How long it will take Caltrans to repair things once the rains have stopped is anyone's guess at this point. Meanwhile, work at Paul's Slide south of the hermitage will likely continue for months (next picture).

Continued prayers for everyone affected by these storms, especially those facing flash flooding throughout CA and in other parts of the country as well. While we are concerned for New Camaldoli and those who need to come and go from there (the hermitage is now isolated by ground), we are also grateful to God that they are currently well-supplied and are relatively safe despite road damage and closings. I will add further updates as I get these.

22 February 2023

Ash Wednesday: We Are Called to Be People of the Cross

As much as it is our tendency to allow things to fade into the background of our awareness, it seems to me that reprising the following post is important to help us remember who we are. Christians are still being persecuted and dying every day in the Middle East as well as in the West. They trust in the Cross of Christ. In our own "first world," friends and relatives struggle with the problems of illness, meaninglessness, bereavement, and all the little and big forms of death which touch any human life. 

Authentic Christianity has always been both badly and well-represented by those calling themselves Christians, but we look around today and find the word Christian is appropriated by so-called "Christian Nationalists", and the symbols of our faith are distorted, even used sacrilegiously. In our own church, we find dishonesty and the use of the language of synodality to cover over efforts to undermine the continuing reception of Vatican II. We find the mega-rich pouring dark money into efforts to strengthen an autocratic church focused on clericalist power, prestige, and reactionary political stances --- all too often supported by bishops supposedly proclaiming the cross of Christ in their dioceses. And yet, in the face of such distortions, the larger church continues to trust in the power of the Cross of Christ, the paradoxical revelation of the very glory of God in weakness and brokenness; we hope to find at the end of Lent that we ourselves at least, are better prepared to celebrate Christ's cross as the victory of God's mercy in a violent, power-mad, and often death-driven world. 

Few stories have reminded me of the power and scandal of the cross like this one. I hope reprising the following post is helpful in moving us toward that festive day even as it reminds us of how unpopular this symbol truly is, in our world and even in our own church.  

          + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +           

[Eleven] years ago I wrote an article here supporting the idea that we Christians are People of the Cross. (cf., We Are People of the Cross). I felt strongly about my disagreement with Sister Joan Chittester's point --- though I understood what she was focusing on and completely empathized with that. But never in my wildest dreams did I think that the importance of that label would be underscored in blood and martyrdom in the way that occurred just three days ago.  On that day ISIS took 21 Coptic Christians out to the beach somewhere along the Mediterranean and beheaded them for being "People of the Cross" and People of the illusion of the Cross. We have all seen the pictures: the long row of young men in orange jumpsuits, each accompanied by his murderer dressed in black and masked from identification; the ISIS member brandishing his knife towards the camera; the headless torso lying in a pool of blood on the sand; the sea turned red with the blood, bodies, and separated heads of these martyrs.

Relatives of Egyptian Coptic Christians purportedly murdered in Libya by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants mourn for those killed.
Families of Martyred Christians in Egypt
On Sunday our parish celebrated several baptisms of children. In each case, the parents and godparents traced the sign of the cross on the child's forehead following our pastor who had first done so --- claiming these children for Christ. It was a joyful occasion also marked by our own renewal of baptismal vows: "Do we renounce. . .?" "Do we believe. . .?" and echoes of our own initiation into the People of God, "Let your light shine. . .!" "Keep your baptismal garment unstained. . .!"

Today, on Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, we will each have a cross traced on our own forehead in ashes and this cross will be visible for at least several hours as we move through our world identified as believers in either the greatest foolishness or the greatest wisdom the world has ever known. Remember, it was Paul, the last and in some ways, the greatest Apostle who said, "If Christ is not raised from the dead then we are the greatest fools of all!" ISIS is certainly not the first to claim the cross was the symbol of an illusion! They will not be the last to suggest Christians are deluded in their faith. But we know Christ crucified and risen, we know him intimately since through him our lives have been changed in ways only the Living God (certainly no mere illusion or delusion) could do.

I have no doubt that ISIS believes the orange jumpsuits and beheadings are somehow degrading, scandalous, and shameful. (They, at the very least, literally represent a complete loss of face and the taking away of honor; in honor-shame cultures, honor resides especially in the head.) Perhaps they see these in somewhat the same way the cross was perceived in Jesus' day. I am sure they believe death has forever separated these Christians from God's love. But in this case, orange is the new white --- the white garment of men and women who have been baptized into Jesus' death -- and therefore too, his resurrection.; the orange/white garment of witnesses, martyrs, who know that our God loves us and all of creation with an everlasting love from which no guilt, no sin, no shame, no death, can separate us. The sign of that love, a love that enters into the godless depths of our own terrible alienation and shame in order to redeem it and bring us back "home" to ourselves and our God is the cross of Christ. We are People of the Cross --- marked by both the world's guilt and shame --- and the righteousness and hope of God's vindication.

Coptic Tattoos; Marked as People of the Cross

On Ash Wednesday we wear that sign both proudly and humbly, joyfully and in grief at our renewed recognition of all it can mean in a broken, divided, and often savage world; once again we wear that sign on our very flesh as we renew our commitment to repent and believe in the unconquerable Love-in-act made real for us in the depths of human shame and shamefulness on and through the cross of Christ. Today as we renew our own professions and identities as People of the Cross, we especially remember these martyrs, these brothers in the faith. They died with Christ's name on their lips; may our own lives similarly proclaim him and the God he revealed.

+Milad Makeen Zaky
+Abanub Ayad Atiya
+Maged Solaimain Shehata
+Yusuf Shukry Yunan
+Kirollos Shokry Fawzy
+Bishoy Astafanus Kamel
+Somaily Astafanus Kamel
+Malak Ibrahim Sinweet
+Tawadros Yusuf Tawadros
+Girgis Milad Sinweet
+Mina Fayez Aziz
+Hany Abdelmesih Salib
+Bishoy Adel Khalaf
+Samuel Alham Wilson
+Ezat Bishri Naseef
+Loqa Nagaty
+Gaber Munir Adly
+Esam Badir Samir
+Malak Farag Abram
+Sameh Salah Faruq
+And the martyr whose name we do not know, a “Worker from Awr village”
Faces of Honor: St Mark's Coptic Church
marks Martyrs with Crowns, Candles, and Flowers 

14 February 2023

"This Trackless Solitude" by Jessica Powers (Reprise)

 Perhaps on Valentine's day there are many poems of Jessica Powers that could be used to signal the love which is the hermit's and which calls to all of us, whatever our vocation, but I think the following one is lovely. Romantic love, wonderful as it is, is a shadow and sacrament of a love which is even deeper and summons us from within with the Voice, Word, or Spirit of God; in this poem Sister Miriam captures this beautifully.

Deep in the soul the acres lie
of virgin lands, of sacred wood
where waits the Spirit. Each soul bears
this trackless solitude.

The Voice invites, implores in vain
the fearful and the unaware;
but she who heeds and enters in
finds ultimate wisdom there.

The Spirit lights the way for her;
bramble and brush are pushed apart.
He lures her into wilderness
but to rejoice her heart.

Beneath the glistening foliage
the fruit of love hangs always near,
the one immortal fruit; He is
or, tasted: He is here.

Love leads and she surrenders to
His will, His waylessness of grace.
She speaks no word save His, nor moves
until He marks the place.

Hence all her paths are mystery,
passaging a Divine unknown.
Her only light is in the creed
that she is not alone.

The soul that wanders, Spirit led,
becomes, in His transforming shade,
the secret that she was, in God,
before the world was made.


09 February 2023

Latest Update From New Camaldoli

[[Earlier this year several communities on the Central Coast received a substantial amount of rain in a short period of time creating havoc for some households and communities. Big Sur and the Hermitage were also affected. On Highway 1 there were multiple mudslides, even one that blocked our main entrance at the bottom of the hill, in addition to flooding and mudslides on our new driveway that was just rebuilt a few years ago.

Paradoxically, our charism of silence and prayer carries us through difficult times. It is in this remote location that our silence starts, but in it we also experience natural events firsthand. The closure of the highway delayed the delivery of supplies - diesel for our generators, propane for our heating, and food. Needless to say, these events confirm our decision to move towards solar sustainability.

Our charism of solitude and prayer remains stable as we do the work of God, continuing our daily prayers during Vigils, Lauds, Vespers, the celebration of the Eucharist, and praying Midday prayer and Compline. In these, we carry your intentions and prayer needs. We invite you to please continue sharing with us your needs and intentions so we can continue doing the work of God for you and with you.

Our gift of hospitality, through which you are welcome to participate in the Camaldolese charism, has been on a hiatus as the road conditions improve. The access from San Luis Obispo is always more treacherous and this section may not be open until late March. The access from Monterey/Carmel was affected by numerous minor slides and the road is more likely be open to the public by the second week of February. Once the roads open to the public we will be glad to welcome you again to visit and stay with us.

We are now receiving supplies regularly and all of us are doing well. We invite you to visit our website for updates (www.contemplation.com) and we are looking forward to welcoming you and seeing you again in person soon.

Fr. Cyprian and the monks of New Camaldoli

05 February 2023

New Camaldoli Reopens with Road Restrictions:

Notice from New Camaldoli Hermitage, [[As of Friday, February 3rd the hermitage will reopen to guests. Highway 1 to our NORTH will be open for local travel and hermitage guests. If you are arriving from Monterey or parts north, you can get to the hermitage via Highway 1. Make sure you bring a copy of your reservation in case you are asked by road crews. The Highway to our north will be safe to drive.

Highway 1 to our SOUTH is still closed to all traffic until approximately March 15. If you want to come to the hermitage and you are south of us (Cambria, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, etc.), you must drive north on Highway 101 and cut across at Monterey and travel south on Highway 1 to the hermitage. You will not be able to drive north on Highway 1 past San Simeon.  Please keep this in mind when making your reservation. This detour north to Monterey adds about an extra 2 hours drive time.]]

11 January 2023

Discerning Whether one lives a Solitude marked by Community or Community marked by Solitude

[[ Hi Sister, thanks for answering my questions. I'm sorry for your difficulties in your parish. I will certainly pray for you and them! It does raise some more questions for me though. For instance, because your parish has always been such an important part of your vocation, would you ever consider changing parishes? What happens to a diocesan hermit who finds that living in a given parish or diocese detracts from living his/her vocation? I mean you can't just go off to another diocese, or can you? Also, from your earlier answer, what is the cut-off line that makes a hermit a hermit instead of being a religious living in community? I hope you understand what I mean here. You don't divide things up percentage-wise so how do you determine you are a hermit participating in community rather than a community member living a non-eremitical form of solitude? Does that make sense? And one last question, what kinds of questions can people ask you? Have you considered opening your blog to comments? I would bet you get more questions if you did that.]]

Good questions and yes, I think I understand what you are asking in all of them. Thanks for your prayers for me and my parish. I appreciate that very much and would note they are probably not much different from those a lot of folks have or are experiencing in relation to widespread attempts by some to move back behind or to prevent the full reception of Vatican II. Would I ever consider changing parishes? Yes, at least I would consider finding other options for regular Mass attendance and preaching that meets my own need to be fed. In some ways, I already do part of that by listening to homilies that are live-streamed. It may be at some point I will need to find a more comprehensive solution, but I am not there yet. 

Regarding changing dioceses the situation is more complicated. Though a diocesan hermit is a canonical hermit wherever she goes within the universal church, should she wish to move to another diocese, she must get the permission of the new bishop in order to be accepted as a diocesan hermit in that diocese. (She cannot live in one diocese and be professed in another.) Her current bishop will confirm she is a hermit in good standing while the new bishop accepts responsibility for her vocation, vows, and canonical status in this new diocese. So, the short answer to your question is no, hermits can't just go off to another diocese; neither am I looking to do so.

Your follow-up questions on determining whether one is a hermit living solitude as a unique form of community, or someone living in community with a consonant and significant focus on solitude is important. When a hermit writes that community is important in her life, is there a danger that at some point she ceases being a hermit and morphs into something else? Yes, that is a danger and it is something dioceses have to discern with candidates prior to profession and hermits must discern at various points thereafter as well. It is important both that solitude not be a name given to validate isolation and individualism, and at the same time, that despite the pervasive presence of community in the hermit's life and coloring her solitude, that she really be living eremitical solitude and bringing the silence of solitude to experiences of community. How does one know what one is really living?

You are correct that I don't use percentages to determine things here. The Trappistines I mentioned in my earlier post refer to balance as important in assuring that they live 100% community and 100% solitude. It is also an important term in managing the relationship between prayer and work so that while they live Benedict's ora et labora, eventually prayer seeps into the Sisters' work and they live a life of prayer in all things. In my own life, and I think in any hermit's life, one begins with the defining elements of one's life. Here c 603 refers to stricter separation from the world, assiduous prayer and penance, and the silence of solitude --- all lived for the salvation of the world. All three of these taken together are important in determining whether or not one is living eremitical solitude or using the term solitude to validate something else. Together, they lead me to discern what I am living in terms not of balance, but of healthiness and focus.

When I write about the silence of solitude I treat it as the context, goal, and charism of the eremitical life. It is context because almost everything I do is done in the silence of my hermitage's solitude. That context is the ground and supportive sphere in which I pray, study, recreate, do inner work (spiritual direction-related work including meetings with my director), and write. Do I go out? Yes, for Mass, walks, some doctor's visits, occasional lunches or coffees, occasional workshops or talks, and until a few years ago, weekly rehearsals for orchestra. Since COVID I tend to do some shared lectio and some Bible study (including those I teach) along with annual or bi-annual retreats via ZOOM;  I meet my doctors via ZOOM as well, but the silence of solitude is first of all about living alone with God in this hermitage. This way is healthy for me, the way I am most truly myself, and the way God can most truly be God for and with me.

The silence of solitude is something I also recognize as the goal of my life. Here silence means the healing of woundedness, the healing and reconciliation of the various anguished and otherwise noisy voices of the past that call for forgiveness, and even more, the achievement of the authentic expression of my deepest self. When I speak of being made to be a Magnificat (cf banner at top of this blog) I am thinking of being made silent in some ways that allow God's life to sing within and through me so that I become not just God's prayer in this world, but God's hymn of praise --- even when the overtones and harmonies of that hymn are profoundly modal or echo my life's lamentations. In some ways, silence here means not getting in the Word's way and allowing it to come to fruition as I am called and empowered to incarnate it for the sake of the whole world. Here the "silence of solitude" which is central to c 603, points to human wholeness and holiness --- the achievement in God of true individuality where my own deepest potentials are realized and appropriately expressed in my most mature Sel. At the same time, the shouts, temptations, and anguish of the world that can deflect such a process are rendered silent or harmonious (even if now gently dissonant) and of no distorting influence.

Finally, the silence of solitude is the charism of my vocation. I believe hermits live this reality with a special focus and vividness. They say with their lives that every person is called to be completed by God and made for a love that can only be received as gift. Given all the various idols alive and prevalent in our world, all of the things without which we are told we cannot live or be happy and complete or whole, the hermit defines authentic humanity in terms of communion with God and points clearly to all of the values and goals which, more often than not, help ensure we "miss the mark" (i.e., are bound by and to sin) instead. That it is really possible to achieve meaningful and fruitful authentic humanity via the love of God is the claim hermits make with lives lived in eremitical solitude; it is a gift we live for the sake of all others and their own search for completion and abundant life.

The purpose of eremitical solitude is to provide a unique (though not the only) way toward Communion and even Union with God. Again, in my life, I understand communion with God as part of being authentically human and necessary for any genuinely loving relationship with others. Each of the canon's central elements mentioned above puts communion-towards-union with God right at the center of the hermit's life; communion with God which tends toward union is the primary definer of the meaning of eremitical solitude, there thing which makes it context, goal, and charism. The first question I have to ask myself therefore is "am I living an eremitical solitude which first of all tends toward union with God?" The second question is related and has to do with how I know this to be true, namely, "Am I living a healthy solitude which is marked by personal growth as a whole and holy human being?" The last questions I tend to ask myself are, "How does community color and shape my solitude and how is it affected by my solitude; does it foster my life in communion-toward-union with God or detract from that? Is it enhanced by my solitude or does it seem to conflict with it?" All of this and more goes into determining how I am living solitude in its relation to community. I hope this is helpful. 

Regarding your question about opening this blog up to comments, etc., I considered it a number of years ago and decided against it. While I appreciate folks writing me via email and otherwise, opening the blog to comments seemed to me to make the boundaries between my hermitage and the world outside it far too porous. This blog is an extension of my life in solitude and the questions I receive are questions I open within the hermitage and its routines. I have some real control over these --- when to read them, when and how to respond to them prayerfully during my day or week. I can work on my blog without being assailed by comments and questions and at the same time can give such things the time they really deserve and call for without feeling assaulted by other opinions, questions, and concerns. (Those too will have their proper time and space if folks take the time to write me!) Not sure if I can explain this sense of mine any better than that; I hope you can understand what I mean.

10 January 2023

Weather and Accessibility Updates on New Camaldoli Hermitage

I have had news over the past several days regarding New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur. Due to the rains here (Norther CA) and problems with slides along the coast roads, NCH is currently closed to guests but also isolated from incoming assistance and supplies. Father Cyprian wrote the following to update Oblates and others who care. I am passing it on:

“We had heavy rains––7.14 inches––yesterday on top of the intermittent heavy rains we have had for the past ten days. Highway 1 is now closed all the way from Palo Colorado Road in the north to the Elephant Seal viewing area in the south, so a distance of about 70 miles. There is at least one major slide to the north of us (there are bound to be countless little ones); and there is at least one major one 25 miles south of us. They have closed the gates on either side of Paul’s Slide, the one that we sit on, so we can’t even go 100 feet south of our driveway now. On top of that, a section of a slope slid down on our entrance road, right where the old road meets the new one, with bushes, rocks, and mud. It is impassable at this point, but our guys are down there now with a bulldozer, two Bobcats, and a backhoe trying to clear it.

 Our biggest issue is that we are low on propane in some of the tanks so we are conserving and moving folks around to places where there is more available. We have also moved all our liturgies into the Chapter Room for the time being to save on heat there too. We have no idea when a delivery truck can make it to us.

The good news is everyone is fine, and in a pretty good mood, staff included, who are consistently loyal and resilient. And thanks to Br. Benedict’s diligence we have enough canned and dry goods to weather most any kind of isolation.

We have been warned to expect more atmospheric rivers in the coming days, but anyone who says they know for sure what is going to happen is not to be believed. So we shall wait and see! Of course all our guests are gone and we have no idea when we will be able to welcome anyone just yet. We hope soon, obviously.

Join us in prayer for all those who have lost life and property, for the evacuated and the homeless, and for all the first responders out there who really have their hands full all up and down the coast. 

Thank you so much for all your concerns and prayers, loyalty and love. We feel it!”

09 January 2023

Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

 Of all the feasts we celebrate, today's feast of the baptism of Jesus is one of the most difficult for us to understand. We are used to thinking of baptism as a solution to original sin instead of the means of our initiation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, or our adoption as daughters and sons of God and heirs to his Kingdom, or again, as a consecration to God's very life and service. When viewed this way, and especially when we recall that John's baptism was one of repentance for sin, how do we make sense of a sinless Jesus submitting to it?

I think two points need to be made here. First, Jesus grew into his vocation. His Sonship was real and completely unique but not completely developed or historically embodied from the moment of his conception; rather it was something he embraced more and more fully over his lifetime. Secondly, his Sonship was the expression of solidarity with us and his fulfillment of the will of his Father to be God-with-us. Jesus will incarnate the Logos of God definitively in space and time, but this event we call the incarnation encompasses and is only realized fully in his life, death, and resurrection -- not in his nativity. Only in allowing himself to be completely transparent to this Word, only in "dying to self," and definitively setting aside all other possible destinies does Jesus come to fully embody and express the Logos of God in a way which expresses his solidarity with us as well.

It is probably the image of Baptism-as-consecration and commissioning then which is most helpful to us in understanding Jesus' submission to John's baptism. Here the man Jesus is set apart as the one in whom God will truly "hallow his name." (That is, in Jesus' weakness and self-emptying God's powerful presence (Name) will make all things Holy and a sacrament of God's presence.) Here, in an act of manifest commitment, Jesus' humanity is placed completely at the service of the living God and of those to whom God is committed. Here his experience as one set apart or consecrated by and for God establishes God as completely united with us and our human condition. This solidarity is reflected in his statement to John that together they must fulfill the will of God. And here too Jesus anticipates the death and resurrection he will suffer for the sake of both human and Divine destinies which, in him, will be reconciled and inextricably wed to one another. His baptism establishes the pattern not only of his humanity, but that of all authentic humanity. So too does it reveal the nature of true Divinity, for ours is a God who becomes completely subject to our sinful reality in order to free us for his own entirely holy one.

I suspect that even at the end of the Christmas season we are still scandalized by the incarnation. (Recent conversations on CV's and secularity make me even surer of this!) We still stumble over the intelligibility of this baptism, and the propriety of it especially. Our inability to fathom Jesus' own baptism, and our tendency to be shocked by it because of Jesus' identity,  just as JohnBp was probably shocked, says we are not comfortable, even now, with a God who enters exhaustively into our reality. We remain uncomfortable with a Jesus who is tempted like us in ALL THINGS and matures into his identity as the incarnation of God's only begotten Son.

We are puzzled by one who is holy as God is holy and, as the creed affirms, "true God from true God" and who, evenso, is consecrated to and by the one he calls Abba --- and commissioned to the service of this Abba's Kingdom and people. A God who wholly identifies with us, takes on our sinfulness (our estrangement from God and from our deepest selves), and comes to us in smallness, weakness, submission and self-emptying is really not a God we are comfortable with --- despite three weeks of Christmas celebrations and reflections, and a prior four weeks of preparation -- is it? In fact, none of this was comfortable for Jews or early Christians either. The Jewish leadership was upset by JnBp's baptisms generally because they took place outside the Temple precincts and structures (that is, in the realm we literally call profane). Early Christians (Jewish and otherwise) were embarrassed by Jesus' baptism by John --- as Matt's added explanation of the reasons for it in vv 14-15 indicate. They were concerned that perhaps it indicated Jesus' inferiority to John the Baptist and they wondered if maybe it meant that Jesus had sinned prior to his baptism. And perhaps this embarrassment is as it should be. Perhaps the scandal attached to this baptism signals to us we are beginning to get things right theologically.

After all, today's feast tells us that Jesus' public ministry begins with a ritual washing, consecration, and commissioning by God which is similar to our own baptismal consecration. The difference is that Jesus freely accepts life in a world under the sway of sin in his baptism just as he wholeheartedly embraces a public vocation to proclaim God's sovereignty. The story of the desert temptation or testing that follows this underscores this acceptance. His public life begins with an event that prefigures his end as well. There is a real dying-to-self involved here, not because Jesus has a false self that must die -- as each of us has --- but because in these events his life is placed completely at the disposal of his God, his Abba, in profoundest solidarity with us. Loving another, affirming the being of another in a way that subordinates one's own being to theirs --- putting one's own life at their disposal and surrendering all other life possibilities always entails a death of sorts -- and a kind of rising to new life as well. The dynamics present on the cross are present here too; here we see only somewhat less clearly a complete and obedient (that is open and responsive) submission to the will of God, and an unfathomable subjection to that which human sinfulness makes necessary precisely so that God's love may be exhaustively present and genuinely sovereign here as well.

07 January 2023

Reflection on the Feast of the Epiphany (reprise)

There is something stunning about the story of the Epiphany and we often don't see or hear it, I think because the story is so familiar to us. It is the challenge that faces us precisely because our God is one who comes to us in littleness, weakness, and obscurity, and meets us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place. It is truly stunning, I think, to find three magi (whoever these were and whatever they represented in terms of human power, wealth, and wisdom) recognizing in a newborn baby, not only the presence of a life with cosmic significance but, in fact, the incarnation of God and savior of the world. I have rarely been particularly struck by this image of the Magi meeting the child Jesus and presenting him with gifts, but this year I see it clearly as a snapshot of the entire Gospel story with all its hope, wonder, poignancy, challenge, and demand.

If the identities of the Magi are unclear, the dynamics of the picture are not. Here we have learned men who represent all of the known world and the power, wealth, and knowledge therein, men who spend their lives in search of (or at least watching for the coming of) something which transcends their own realms and its wisdom and knowledge, coming to kneel and lay symbols of their wealth and wisdom before a helpless, Jewish baby of common and even questionable birth. They ostensibly identify this child, lying in a feeding trough, as the King of the Jews. Yes, they followed a star to find him, but even so, their recognition of the nature and identity of this baby is surprising. Especially so is the fact that they come to worship him. The stunning nature of this epiphany is underscored by the story of the massacre of male babies in Bethlehem by the Jewish ruler, Herod. Despite his being heralded as the messiah, and so too, the Jewish King, there is nothing apparently remarkable about the baby from  Herod's perspective, nothing, that is, which allows him to be distinguished from any other male baby of similar age --- unless of course, one can see him with eyes of humility and faith --- and so, the story goes, Herod has all such babies indiscriminately killed.

One child, two antithetical attitudes and responses: the first, an openness which leads to recognition and the humbling subordination of worship; the second, an attitude of a closed mind, of defensiveness, ambition, and self-protection, an attitude of fear which leads not only to a failure of recognition but to arrogant and murderous oppression. And in between these two attitudes and responses, we must also see the far more common ones marking lives which miss this event altogether. In every case, the Christ Event marks the coming of the sovereign, creator, God among us, but in the littleness, weakness, and obscurity of ordinary human being. In this way, God meets us each in the unexpected and even unacceptable place (the manger, the cross, human being, self-emptying, weakness, companionship with serious sinners, sinful death, etc) --- if we only have the eyes of faith which allow us to recognize and worship him!

Silence of Solitude and Community in Eremitical Life

[[Hi Sister Laurel, good to see you writing here again. Have you been okay? I had a question about what you wrote on the Feast of the Holy Family. You said, [[It took and still takes the focused work I associate with spiritual direction, the deep and intense silence of prayer, and the community in all its forms that grounds and renders meaningful and coherent the eremitical solitude that represents the context, charism, and goal of my own life with God.]] When you write about community in all of its forms rendering eremitical solitude meaningful and coherent, what do you mean? I guess I still see community and eremitical solitude as opposed to one another. I am not sure I understand the use of the word coherent here either.]]

Hi there yourself, and thanks for the questions! Yes, in the main I have been okay. There have been struggles with health that are ongoing -- these are sometimes worse and sometimes better --- and difficulties in our parish community that are relatively new; all have taken a lot of energy, including emotional and intellectual energy. Also, I haven't received many questions recently so thinking up posts was just too hard for me. However, I am getting back on track and discerning what I will do in the midst of all of this so I am feeling better. Not least, I am beginning Bible study again for the parish (and others joining us by ZOOM) with the Gospel of John on the 19th of January, and as always, Scripture and the challenge of teaching it are incredibly life-giving for me. 

I am also recommitting to this blog. I continue to believe it is important and touches more people than I can ever know. The week after Christmas I wrote to a monastery in a neighboring state whose Christmas Mass was live-streamed. (I attended Mass in person in my own area, but I wanted to share this community's celebration as well.) Unfortunately, there was no audio! Later that day they put up the homily as a separate video. Fortunately, the audio worked fine! When I wrote, I thanked them for posting the separate video and made a few comments about the homily. It had spoken to me "with God's own voice" and was simply a gift I will carry with me as I move into the future. Not least, to underscore the substance of the homily, the presider included a litany-like song with Celtic harp accompaniment about each of us being the beauty of God incarnated in our world. 

Later that afternoon I received an email from the priest whose homily I had noted. He introduced himself as "the guy playing the harp" and thanked me for the kind words. Further, he explained that he was glad to make contact with me because he was discerning contemplative and/or eremitical life and when he began doing so a few years ago had first read my blog. He has read it many times over the past several years. Our connection was a reminder of how small our world really is, and how God works to weave threads together in some of the most surprising ways as he summons everything to fullness in himself. All of this also ties into and prepares the way for my answer to your question about the relation of solitude to community.

So, on to that question! I spoke of community in all of its forms as providing a way for eremitical solitude to be meaningful and coherent and there I was thinking there of several things. The first is that no Christian hermit lives solitude purely alone. That may be isolation;  it may be some form of personal death (that is, death in a less definitive sense), but it is not solitude. Eremitical solitude as I live and know it is inherently communal --- though that may certainly seem an unusual claim. I do not live alone, ever. I live with God and God is real to me most all the time. Secondly, however, because I am a Catholic hermit, my solitude is rooted in the community of the universal Church, especially as it is localized in my diocese and parish. 

This is not an abstract or merely notional or pro forma rootedness; it involves me with people in concrete ways; they are fed by and feed me and my solitude (communion with God) even when I am not with them physically. I work regularly with a spiritual director who either comes here to the hermitage or meets with me via ZOOM. I am dependent on other people in a number of different ways, from doctors and nurse practitioners to folks who deliver my groceries, those who give me rides to liturgy, et al. And of course, as noted above, I both touch and am touched by people who read this blog and have done for some part of the past 16 or so years. Most of these I will never meet or even speak to. Some write me and a few I will meet face to face --- especially those living in solitude themselves.

In other words, in my solitude, there is a complex and deep web of people whose love and prayers sustain and challenge me to be myself precisely in the silence of solitude even as my life does the same for them. Though it is not always done directly, they subtly influence all of the elements of my vocation; they give that call a certain significance and are part of shaping it in ways that are both meaningful and help it to hang together (cohere) so that it constitutes a meaningful whole. I have often written of the vocation to eremitical solitude as an ecclesial vocation --- meaning first of all that this vocation belongs to the church before it belongs to the hermit herself. (God gives it to the Church who mediates it to me and to other hermits on God's behalf. 

That mediation is not a one-time act, but an ongoing reality I continue to receive and embrace.) I believe profoundly that this ecclesial context is a large part of what allows an eremitical vocation to speak in the way any true vocation must. Among other things, it helps clarify at every point that one's solitude is not about escapism but encounter and engagement, not individualism but individuality and being the whole person one is called by God to be. The silence of solitude points to being committed and whole enough to listen and respond --- to God, to one's deepest self, and to others who might come into one's ambit in any way at all including their need for prayer. It is also a fruit of such attentive or obedient listening, living, and loving.

Consider the following in identifying eremitical solitude as a unique form of community. One's vocation is mutually discerned with representatives of the church; one is called forth by the community to make one's profession and to receive consecration; one is similarly sent into the hermitage to embrace a life of assiduous prayer with and for God's own sake and the sake of all of God's creation, and is supported in one's solitude and anachoresis by the prayer and the assistance of many others. 

The hermit is aware of all of this throughout her life in the hermitage. To forget it is to forget who she is and how she has been and is called every day of her life. At the same time, if one takes any part of this communal dimension away, solitude begins to look very different. It ceases to be eremitical solitude as the church and canon 603 understand it, and can gradually slide into alienation and individualism while the silence of solitude may modulate into the muteness of an uncommitted and personally empty withdrawal from life. It may become a silence we struggle to fill with "noise" --- the noise of various forms of activity and distraction, for example. 

Because of the difficulties recently associated with my parish and the way it has affected my own life, I am clearer than ever that community underlies, pervades, and even characterizes the hermit's solitude in a unique way --- though of course, one can and does move more deeply into the solitude of one's hermitage and the arms of God one finds there for strength and comfort at such times. But even at such times, one's "greater" turn to the silence of solitude of the hermitage is strongly marked by one's existence as part of a community of faith. Nor does deepening or more intense communion with God allow one to forget this. The suffering one brings to prayer at times like this is the suffering of life in a faith community and the strength and healing one finds in one's solitude is the healing one brings in some way to one's faith community. I remember a Trappistine Sister explaining in a video once a while ago that "our life is about 100% community and 100% solitude; it is not 50/50 because the heart of both of these is communion with others" -- and though hermits approach this truth from a different perspective than Trappists, so it is with eremitical life and its communion, first with God, then ourselves, and also with others. 

I hope this is helpful. An older post covers some of this and may do a better job of it in some ways. You can find it here: Silence of Solitude as Charism

01 January 2023

Happy New Year! Recommitting Ourselves to the God of Newness

I have written here in the past that our God is associated with a form of newness we might call qualitative newness. In Greek, it is kainetes or kaine. It contrasts with the second kind of newness Greek recognizes and has a distinct word for, neos. This is the newness associated with a new pair of shoes, for instance; it is the kind of newness where a version of the thing in question replaces an older or worn-out version of the thing or where one gets something one didn't have before, a new broom or car or dishwasher --- or a new pair of shoes. The promise of the Gospel, of Christmas, and of the entry of God into our hearts and human history, is the promise of kainetes, a qualitative newness where everything is made new and, eventually, God is all in all. 

The ironic thing about becoming new in this way is that it means the realization of the things which are deepest and oldest within us, the potentialities we have held since our conception to become the person God calls us to be. To become new in the way God makes all things new means, for us, to become our truest selves, to become authentically human; we do this in response to the Word and Spirit of God who is constantly summoning us to Godself. 

At the beginning of the year, we make resolutions --- or at least most folks do, I think. In these resolutions, we tinker with this or that aspect of our lives and commit to improving this practice or that one. We may swear off chocolate, commit to praying more often, to spending less money on extravagances or to go to the gym every day, and the like. All of these touch in some way on who we are and often on things that prevent us from being all we might be. But often only barely. At the same time, they miss the mark in enabling us to be new persons. They simply do not go far enough in allowing God to make all things new. They don't go far enough in identifying the real goal, the commitment we need to make to be our truest selves. 

On the other hand, when we commit to being ourselves, our truest, most authentic selves, nothing remains the same. Nor is there any limit on the growth this entails or the number of ongoing, related commitments that might also be required as newness opens up within and in front of us. This commitment means turning first and last to God as the ground and source of all genuine (qualitative) newness --- or kainetes. And, it means turning to the truth deep within ourselves, the truth that no enemy can destroy, no failure abolish, nor darkness quench. Finally, it means learning trust that deep truth, in all of its strength, beauty, and wondrous giftedness, is really who we are -- and depending on it, living from it day in and day out along with the God who is its source and ground.

In the new year I pray that people will make this kind of commitment. If we can do that, and if we can renew it every day,  the God who works in and through us can and will make our world a vastly different place and we will have taken steps toward allowing (him) to become all in all.

All good wishes to my readers for a really New Year!! I wish you each and all, the peace of Christ.

30 December 2022

Feast of the Holy Family

Today's Feast has not always been one with which I could resonate well because I grew up in what would euphemistically be called a "dysfunctional" family in which love was a difficult and sometimes difficult-to-find reality. Thus, the symbol of the Holy Family was one I was sure I did not understand and might never really come close to understanding. On the other hand,  both then and now, I have had many really profound experiences of  "family" in a broader and less formal sense including families who "adopted me" (again, in an informal but real sense), in music groups, with friends throughout school, via parish communities, and with Sisters with whom I lived in community or otherwise shared the values and bonds of religious life. 

In all of these, I learned the importance and challenge of loving and being loved into wholeness, that is, loving and being loved in a way that allowed my deepest potential as a person to be realized. And yet, that wasn't always an easy thing to allow! It took and still takes the focused work I associate with spiritual direction, the deep and intense silence of prayer, and the community in all its forms that grounds and renders meaningful and coherent the eremitical solitude that represents the context, charism, and goal of my own life with God. Luke's infancy narrative gives an account of Mary's single powerful "Fiat!" and notes, "She pondered all these things in her heart," which points to a process extending far beyond that single "Fiat". Coming to be the bearer of Light and Life God wills us each to be in Christ takes innumerable "Yes-es" -- and not a few no's as well! The pondering we do in our hearts is not always peace-filled, and the Magnificat we learn to sing with our lives may be more compelling for the dissonances and darkness that continue to mark it in various ways.

 (Reprise) Christmas is a season of Joy not because there is no darkness, no sin, no oppression, or death, but because it reminds us that God has made of our humanity a sacrament of (his) own life and light in spite of the continuing presence of these other realities. History has become the sanctuary of the transcendent and eternal God. Our God is now Emmanuel (God-with-us) and we, the littlest and the least have been ennobled (and revealed as made noble!) beyond anything we might otherwise have imagined. In and through Christ we too are called to be Emmanuel for our world, in and through the Christ Event we are each made to be temples of the Holy Spirit. As Advent reminded us, we live in "in-between" times, a time of already but not-yet. There is work to be done, and suffering we will still experience. But the light and joy of Christmas is real and something which will inspire and empower all that still needs to be done: caring for, loving (!) the least and littlest so they truly know they are the dwelling places of God; opposing the Herods of this world in whatever effective way we can so the Kingdom of God may be more fully realized by divine grace through time; allowing the joy and potential of the Christ's nativity in our world and ourselves to grow to its proper fullness of grace and stature as we embrace authentic humanity and holiness.

My very best wishes to all on this Feast of the Holy Family and my special thanks to the Sisters of the Holy Family (Fremont, CA) for the charism embodied by the members of their congregation and the mission they embrace so selflessly. As they mark the renewal of their vows on this feast we celebrate that they have been and remain a light to the littlest and the least amongst us, to the lost, the abandoned and rejected, to the homeless or those who are otherwise without families, and to all those who have found in them a compassionate Presence capable in Christ of healing the wounds occasioned by the sin and death at work in our world and sometimes in our own families. I personally locate them at the crossroads of Mercy and Grace and I know I am not alone in this.

18 December 2022

Called to Clap and Cheer: Embracing an Advent-Christmas Attitude toward the Future (Reprise from 2015)

In Advent: Shaping our Lives in Light of the Future I wrote that Advent is about preparing to embrace and embracing the future, especially the future revelation of God, rather than hanging onto the past as an adequate model of what will one day be. I reminded readers that our cosmos is an unfinished reality and that we are on the way to the day when Christ will "come to full stature" and God will be all in all. I also noted that theologians and exegetes today read the Genesis creation and fall narratives very differently than they once did --- not as pointing to a completed and perfected universe which then, through human disobedience or sin, fell from perfection, but instead to a perfected universe still coming to be.

Such a new reading does not leave human sinfulness out of the picture nor does it even change our definition of it much. It is still very much about an ungratefulness we link with disobedience and "falling short" of the reality God calls us to be and embrace in our loving, our stewardship of life in all of its forms and stages, and our worship of the One Creator God. Sin is still about substituting our own versions of God for the real One based on partial and fragmentary revelations and being "satisfied" with a religion whose focus is too much on the now-dead past while we resist (i.e., we fail to entrust everything in faith to) the ever-surprising God who wills to make everything definitively new. Sin is about enmeshment in this passing world and its fragmentary vision; it shows itself in resistance to the coming Kingdom (the sovereignty and realm) of God which is already in our midst in a proleptic way and seeks to pervade and transfigure all we are and know. Sin is about our resistance or lack of openness to the qualitatively new and surprising (kainetes), the reality we know as an eternal or absolute future; when we embrace or otherwise become enmeshed in that lack of openness we are left only with the world of transience and death. After all, sin and death, in all of their forms and degrees are precisely about a lack of future.

Today's readings from Isaiah and Matthew fit very well in underscoring these dynamics, both those of Advent and the futurity it inaugurates and celebrates, as well as of sin and its resistance to newness and future. Isaiah's language is classic for us. He reminds us that so long as we are disobedient to the Commandments of God we have no future; we will not prosper. I think today we need to hear the term "Commandments" as referring to those imperatives of gratefully loving, stewarding life, and worshiping God which are the keys to any authentic futurity. Obedience is a matter of hearkening to these, that is, being open and attentive to them in all of the ways and places they come to us as we embrace whatever they call us to. Obedience is the responsive behavior of those who are grateful.

The Gospel lection tells a wonderful story of prophetic and messianic gifts of God (symbolized most fully by John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth) given freely to God's People --- only to be met with narrow-minded criticism and hardhearted ingratitude. God is trying to do something new, trying to bring creation to fulfillment in a "New Creation" of freedom, holiness, and eternal life; human beings representing God's chosen people are resistant. Now John the Baptist himself had come to wonder if Jesus was really the Messiah John had prepared people for; things were looking bad for both John and Jesus and Jesus did seem to be pretty different than the One John had been proclaiming.

Jesus responded to John's questions by pointing to the things God was doing through him to give the blind and crippled a new and full future --- just as Isaiah had promised. Then Jesus uses the image of children engaged in petty bickering as they play games mimicking weddings and funerals. It is important to note that these are ordinarily the most joyful and poignant celebrations of life, love, and the hope of a future grounded in the God we know. Similarly, funerals are those moments marking the terrible sadness and grief of sin and death in separation from God --- though they too may be transformed into celebrations of an eternal hope and future. Jesus reminds the adults listening to him that --- in something that was deadly serious --- God played them a dirge (called them to serious repentance and conversion) culminating in the prophet John and a wedding hymn in Jesus his Anointed One, but they resisted and rejected both. Instead, they criticized John as a crazy person and called Jesus a drunkard and glutton. Theological arrogance, religious complacency (lukewarmness) or superiority, outright cynicism or hardheartedness --- whatever the roots of this ingratitude it gave no room at all to a faith (trust) that allowed God to do something new in and with our world.

Because Christmas and the exhaustive incarnation of God is, in some ways, not yet complete; because we look forward to the day when Christ will finally come to full stature (cf., Paul to the Ephesians), both Isaiah and Matthew are urging us to adopt an attitude of gratitude and joyful openness to the God of Newness and the future we know as life in God. It is an attitude that contrasts radically with that of the children playing their games in today's gospel or of those rejecting Jesus and John and the Kingdom they inaugurate. Harold Buetow tells the following story which captures the childlike humility, excitement, gratitude, and openness we are to have in relation to the awesome Christmas drama of the New Creation God is authoring right now in our lives and world.

[[Little Jimmie was trying out for a part in the school [Christmas] play. He'd set his heart on being in it though his mother feared he wouldn't be chosen. On the day when the parts were awarded, with some trepidation his mother went to collect him after school. Jimmie rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement: "Guess what, Mom," he shouted, and said, "I've been chosen to clap and cheer!"]]

I am especially struck by how really involved and aware, how truly attentive to and appreciative of the work occurring right in front of oneself one must be to "clap and cheer" (or to be raptly silent!) in ways which support and move the drama of God's will forward. Isn't this the attitude of praise and gratitude evident in God's followers all throughout the centuries? Isn't this the attitude merited by an unfinished universe moving mysteriously but inexorably toward the day when its Creator God will be all in all?  And isn't this the attitude of obedient anticipation Advent asks each of us to cultivate?

The story of Jimmie's call is from Harold Buetow's, Walk in the Light of the Lord, A Thought a Day for Advent and Christmastide, Alba House, 2004. (Friday, 2nd Week of Advent, p 40.)