19 November 2007

In time of daffodils

Painting, Blue Lilies, by Sister Kristine Haugen, ocdh (Link to Sister's hermitage and art can be found in the second (lower and darker blue) right hand column; please check these out!)

in time of daffodils(who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why,remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so(forgetting seem)

in time of roses(who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek(forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me

e.e.cummings (16 of 95 Poems)

". . . Not my will, but Thine be done!" (or, "Jesus, Son of David, Have pity on me!!")

As part of a Communion service today, I did a reflection on the readings. I had agreed to do this service several weeks ago since the parish would be without a priest for today, and I first looked at the readings back then. I read the first lection from 2 Macc. where some of the Jews made relatively small compromises with the surrounding culture which eventually led them to fall away from their faith and headlong into apostasy, and I thought, "Yes, people could hear something helpful on that theme. Easy enough to do something on this!" But when I read on, I knew immediately that I did not want to talk about today's Gospel: "Please," I thought, "Not a healing miracle! I can't talk about such a lection!" (If you weren't at Mass today, it was the Lukan story of Jesus stopping on his way to Jericho to heal a blind beggar who calls out to him, "Jesus, Son of David, Have pity on me!!" Jesus asks him in return, "What do you want me to do for you?" and the beggar says, "I would like to see again." Jesus heals him and announces that his faith has made him whole.

Unfortunately, it took some time before I asked myself directly why it was this was such a problem for me, or went back to really do some serious lectio with this reading and the first one as well. When I did, the answer was embarrassing --- and not particularly edifying either, as that old-fashioned and VERY helpful word goes. Instead of saying to myself, "I can't talk about such a lection, " I should probably have said more openly, "I can't talk about such a lection to an intellectually sophisticated, well-educated group of 21st century folks; afterall, does God really work this way in our lives today?" And of course, the answer I implicitly provided was, "No, certainly he does not! He is not an interventionist God reaching in from outside to change the laws of physics and biology. Instead he works THROUGH these laws, he gifts physicians and scientists with the power to make well, and does his miracles in that way!" (Neither would it occur to us to blame people who are not healed for inadequate faith. No, our sciences, spirituality, and theology are more 'sophisticated' than this.)

As someone who deals with chronic illness on an ongoing basis, I have certainly prayed for miraculous healing in the past. But I realized that some years ago I stopped praying for physical healing, and, at least ostensibly adopted Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane as the "way to go" in the matter of petitionary prayer: "Not my will, but thine be done!" There were good and legitimate reasons for doing so: 1) God was NOT healing me or willing that I be healed (at least not apparently!), nor was medical science particularly effective either, 2) I needed to come to terms with the losses and disappointments associated with the illness, and I needed to see the value in it, if there was any, 3) I needed REALLY to bend my will to God's in this, and come to model my life on Jesus' more completely (that is, I needed for my will to be shaped in this way by the power of God's love), 4) I needed to move past any self-centeredness, any untoward focus on self and come to terms with present reality in a way which opened up the future as well. It did not hurt that others seemed to think this prayer of Jesus (". . .Not my will, but thine. . ."), was theologically and spiritually more sophisticated and less naive than prayers for miraculous healing. Nor did it hurt that moving on to this next "phase" of prayer seemed nobler, more pious, and also, that it allowed me to neglect looking at the inadequacy of my faith, or my fear of being completely in touch with how badly I wanted to be healed.

But today's Gospel struck me with what I had hidden from myself, what I had forgotten about Jesus' prayer, and what I knew from my own more profound prayer experiences. First, that this prayer of Jesus was only a PART of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; as important as it was, it took a long time of pouring out his heart to his Father regarding what he really wanted, what he was profoundly terrified of, what he grieved losing, and what it was that really made him vulnerable in this world to GET TO this point --- to reach this conclusion and goal of authentic and kenotic living. Secondly, it was only in such vulnerability that he was truly and completely open to the Father's will: only in radically asking for what he wanted was Jesus open to the possibility that God might allow this cup to pass from him, and so too, to the possibility that God might indeed will something different for him at this point in time. And thirdly, that it was only in believing/knowing that God COULD work a miracle right here and now ("O God all things are possible for you!"), that Jesus actually came to know fully that God's will for him was different than this.

It seemed significant to me that in today's Gospel, Jesus does not ask the blind beggar what God's will is, or even what it is he needs. Jesus asks instead, "What would you have me do for you?" Of course, there is no indication the beggar KNOWS his plea will be answered positively in the very terms stated, but there is no doubt he knows his plea CAN be answered positively; what Jesus asks for from him is that he pour out his own heart in the matter, that he risk entrusting himself to Jesus on this level. The prayer of the beggar is indeed self-centered; it reflects his own deepest wishes. It is not cast in terms of the nobler sounding, "Not my will but thine be done." And yet eventually and paradoxically, it is precisely through the beggar's radical self-centeredness and resulting vulnerability that God is truly glorified and the beggar is open to His greater will being done. We do not glorify God if our prayer remains self-centered, of course, but neither will our prayer be sensitive to the will of God, much less glorify him, if we simply neglect or side-step this aspect of it.

In today's first reading Jews compromise their faith and fall into abject apostasy. By leaving behind the practice of praying for healing (in EVERY sense!) as well as failing to believe God COULD do a miracle right here and now, and adopting only the second part of Jesus' prayer, I am afraid I did something similar. In the name of scientific and theological sophistication (and avoiding owning up to the lack of courage and vulnerability REALLY involved in praying for a miracle), I actually left behind an integral part of my own faith and prayer, for from my own prayer I have experienced God's powerful presence, and have been convinced he CAN heal from within our world, from within us, in fact. I wonder how often something similar happens to each of us as we search for and try to adopt an authentic Christian faith in our contemporary world?

We want to have a critical rather than a naive faith. We want, of course, to pray and live in a way that says, "Not My will, but thine be done!" But today's Gospel reminds us that we do not come to this point without painful and risky pouring out of our hearts to God. We do not come to a genuine submission to the will of God in our lives if on some level we have ALSO foreclosed the possibility that God CAN and (sometimes at least!) WILL heal us miraculously right here and right now. Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane IS a model for us, but it is his WHOLE prayer there that is our paradigm. While Jesus' affirmation is our goal, we do not reach it without the neuralgic and sometimes messy egocentric baring of our hearts to him. Only in this way do we really remain open to and come to know what his will actually is; only in this way do we move beyond such self-centeredness and bend our own wills (or rather, allow them to be bent) to his. Only in this way do we come to understand that ultimately, the cry, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!" IS the prayer that God's will will be done!

15 November 2007

The Lord's Prayer: Initiation into a life of Invocation (brief)

With Advent nearing I am looking afresh at the Lord's Prayer. After all, it summarizes what Jesus' vocation was all about, how he prayed, how he lived, what had priority for him, and what, by extension, constitutes Christian existence. Learning to pray this prayer is not a one-time task, and recitation of it is not without risks and challenges. Instead, we are invited to learn to pray as Jesus did, to pour ourselves into its petitions, day by day and "layer" of self by layer of self. It calls us, and provides a concrete way, to allow our hearts and lives to be shaped as Jesus' was. Yes, it teaches us to pray rightly, but more, it initiates us into a life of prayer; more correctly said perhaps, it molds and shapes us into the very prayers we are called to BE. (I am convinced that the admonition to "pray always" is a statement of the purpose of human life, and that prayer is not only an activity we are to undertake, but something we are to become. When we call Jesus "the Word made Flesh," we really are calling him an incarnate prayer, a Word event whose whole being glorifies (reveals and allows God to be) God in space and time.)

One of the things that comes up again and again is just how deceptively familiar the prayer is for us. We recite it daily, sometimes several times a day; and yet, almost every petition holds surprises for us. We simply don't know what the words mean or what they summon us to. The invocation is a particularly striking example. Luke's version of the prayer has simply, "Pater" (or "Abba"), while Matthew's has the more litugically suited and formed, "Our Father, who Art in Heaven!" Some people in parishes have problems calling God "Father," because they treat the word as a metaphor, and as an instance of human patriarchy or paternalism writ-very-large. Others love that God is called "abba, pater" because it apotheosizes or raises to divine level their own patriarchal pretensions. And yet, both groups have gotten something very basic wrong, namely, the invocation to the Lord's Prayer is not merely a metaphor describing divinity's "paternalness" --- one characteristic among others including maternalness. It is instead a NAME, and as a name it is symbol, not merely metaphor, and it FUNCTIONS as a name does. The Lord's Prayer begins with the revelation of and permission to invoke God BY NAME even if Matt's elaborate formulation obscures this for English readers. In Christ we are allowed, and in fact, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to call upon God as Abba, where Abba is a personal word of address which does far less to describe God than it does to give him a personal place to stand in our world.

We will miss this though, if we do not move beyond the prayer's familiarity and treat the invocation as a description of or metaphor for God. Remember, for instance, that the word "Abba" is in the vocative case, the case used for direct address. Remember that Jesus used the term "Abba" with a unique intimacy and familiarity, not as a description of God, but as direct address and name. Remember that his usage was unprecedented in Palestinian Judaism (Judiasm of the diaspora was somewhat different), not only because Jews tended to avoid referring to God as Abba (pagans did that all the time!), or because using Abba as a name and speaking it directly was too presumptuous (Divine names were not spoken or even written out), but also because the times they did refer to God as Father, it was in a collective sense and more metaphor or descriptor than name. Remember too that in Matt's day people LONGED to know both the REAL Name of God, and that their prayer was truly effective. So desperate were they that they stood on street corners reading from magic papyri which listed every known name of God. When Matthew warns us about using empty words in our prayers this is the practice he is referring to, a practice driven by the need to know and invoke God by name --- a need to pray with genuine authority and power.

But, along comes Jesus with his unique relationship with this One he calls by name as Abba, thus addressing God with an unheard of familiarity and intimacy. He speaks, lives, and teaches with a new kind of authority. To put it plainly, Jesus is on a first name basis with God; he speaks in the NAME of God. Their relationship is unique and the exchanges between them equally so. When we attend to his prayer, we see that Jesus calls upon God BY NAME as "Abba, Father." He gives this One a personal place to stand in the world in the way only invocation can do, invocation in both narrower and broader senses: that is, addressing or calling upon another by name and living one's life in the name of that other implicating them in all one is and does. Jesus reveals (makes real in space and time) a new Name for God. God is no longer simply the One who will be (present with us as) who he will be (present with us) [ehyeh asher ehyeh, YHWH]; he is Abba, and the One whom he will be is revealed definitively in Christ. By extension, Christians are those marked by this name, who, through the adoption of baptism live within its power and presence, who "call upon" or invoke God in this way. It is the symbol or name marking our vocation in this world, just as it marked that of Jesus.

As I have written here before, the life of Christian prayer is a life of invocation. The task before us and which we reflect on anew each Advent is to learn and embrace what it means to live as those who call upon and live life in the Name of another --- and not just any other, but the One Jesus revealed as "Abba, Father." The Lord's Prayer initiates us into this life, and the first line, the only non-petition in the entire prayer, embodies or symbolizes the whole of this vocation. It is both invitation and challenge: not only to take this Name upon our lips, but to glorify the name of God with our lives, to become those who truly are adopted daughters and sons of the One we call Abba, Father.

04 November 2007

02 November 2007

Living With and In the Eucharistic Presence

Apparently it is a surprise to some people that canonical or diocesan hermits are allowed to reserve Eucharist in their "cells" or hermitages, and also, as solitaries, to self-communicate during a Communion service on those days when it is impossible to get to or have someone come in to say Mass. More than surprise, there is dismay, indignation and concern for the legalities of such a situation. The idea that Bishops approve Rules of Life which may describe this arrangement for reserving and receiving Eucharist seems to be anathema to these folks, and they suggest that it is not surprising reverence for the Eucharist is supposedly declining in the post Vatican II Church given such praxis and permission. The idea, on the other hand, that a hermit might actually enhance reverence for the Eucharist through such praxis seems not to have occured to them.

The history of eremitical reservation of the Eucharist is as old as eremitical life itself. The following is EWTN's desciption of the situation: [[Under the impact of this faith, the early hermits reserved the Eucharist in their cells. From at least the middle of the third century, it was very usual for the solitaries in the East, especially in Palestine and Egypt, to preserve the consecrated elements in the caves or hermitages where they lived. The immediate purpose of this reservation was to enable the hermits to give themselves Holy Communion. But these hermits were too conscious of what the Real Presence was not to treat it with great reverence and not to think of it as serving a sacred purpose by just being nearby.]] See also: Notes from Stillsong Hermitage: On the Reservation of Eucharist by Hermits

Recently I had the occasion to hear actual accusations that the Eucharistic praxis here at Stillsong detracts from reverence for the Eucharist and belief in the Real Presence because I am allowed to open the tabernacle, open the ciborium, and remove the Eucharist so that I may receive it in Communion. Given the contents of this blog thus far (there is nothing in text or pictures which points to a lack of appropriate reverence for the Eucharist), I found the accusations disingenuous, and beyond pointing out that my Rule of Life was accepted by my Bishop and had been thoroughly checked over by several canonists, I sought to move the discussion to greater levels of reflection, and more significant Eucharistic questions than the important but BEGINNING questions about legality and conditions of reservation and reception. I think these are the questions that any hermit, consecrated virgin, or religious considers when they live with the Eucharist in their most intimate space. While none of us is worthy of the privilege of retaining and receiving the Eucharist in such solitary circumstances (or any other for that matter), the simple fact is I live with what I consider to be much more profound questions and demands because of the Eucharistic presence and reception here in Stillsong. I honor the canons on proper reservation and reverence toward the Eucharist, of course, but they are merely the starting point for a life of living with Jesus in the Eucharist.

So what questions, does this raise for me? What ARE the questions I live with which help challenge and define me and my Eucharistic adoration? Well, they are more foundational and more concerned with going beyond the letter of the Law than the concerns and questions of the accusers. For instance, what is it that constitutes appropriate worship of Eucharist? How should it function in our lives in order to indicate a GENUINE and even PROFOUND belief in the real presence? Is it enough to adore it remotely, or are we to consume and be consumed by it to truly adore it? What are the dangers of someone having Eucharist in their hermitage or home (as in CV's or religious Sisters and Brothers) --- assuming normal prudence and limited access of others to the Eucharist? How does one protect against such dangers? What are the benefits and what does such a thing say to others ABOUT the Eucharist? How would having Eucharist in one's hermitage, home, or cell change the way one relates to her environment? Does the idea of worship begin to change? Should and does it, for instance, come to envelop the smallest thing one does so that the most ordinary tasks become a matter of worship?

All of these questions are part and parcel of Eucharistically oriented prayer. They are certainly questions someone who LIVES WITH the Eucharist considers on a regular basis. And then of course, there are the very personal questions about one's own living and loving, one's being and failing to be what the Eucharist calls us to be. They are questions about the state of one's heart, the way in which one really serves or fails to serve the God who reveals himself as God-with-us in every moment and mood of our day. How has one grown in prayer? In service to the Church and World? How is the dialogue with God which one IS, maturing and coming to greater articulation because of the constant Eucharistic presence? How has it failed to happen and what are we being called to that very day or hour? How constant is the state of gratitude one finds oneself in in light of lving with such a precious gift? How pervasive is the sense of giftedness in all things? How aware is one of the capacity of the most ordinary piece of reality to mediate the presence of a Living God? And how well has one maintained an environment of silence, solitude, prayer, penance, AND hospitality which are appropriate to one living with such a Presence?

The questions of canons regarding appropriate reservation and communication of the Eucharist, are important questions initially, but for one to really REVERENCE and WORSHIP the Eucharist as it is meant to be, one needs to move to all those more profound and personal questions, questions of relationship, questions of vulnerability, questions of increased sensitivity and true worship --- especially worship which embraces the most ordinary and everyday aspects of one's day. (When one lives in the presence of the Eucharist, and with a presence lamp always burning, it tends to encourage one to superimpose these images onto every place and situation into which one enters. Everyone and every place becomes holy, and potentially eucharistic.) Those who are allowed to reserve and receive Eucharist in solitary circumstances (hermits, CV's, small houses with a single vowed religious) serve the Church by raising all these questions (and forcing others to raise them instead of remaining simply on the level of law); so too do they serve the church by becoming a living symbol of the realm where the Eucharist is REALLY and visibly central in an individual's life, and without which the individual would be very much more alone and even bereft.

It seems to me that such questions point to a profound (if ever-growing) reverence for the Eucharist and commitment to the Real Presence --- even where the quality of these things needs to continue to mature and deepen every day. I suppose I also think that remaining on the level of Law in one's considerations of eremitical praxis today in regard to Eucharistic reservation and reception represents its own form of lack of reverence and failure to worship the Eucharist appropriately. No hermit could live this life and take Eucharist for granted or fail to genuinely and profoundly worship and reverence it. More, I think every hermit must (and does!) develop a practical or pastoral theology of worship which extends to the most ordinary moments and moods of one's day --- because these moments occur in the Eucharistic Presence, that is, they occur in an environment which is completely oriented towards and conditioned by that Presence. I think this leads to genuine reverence, a more profound reverence than might otherwise be the case, and a theology of worship which is more adequate than one which brackets Eucharist off from everyday life and circumstances even while surrounding its reservation with the appropriate, but relatively remote trappings of more usual Eucharistic adoration.

The original accusations stung a bit; they were directed to precisely where I care the most and so, am most vulnerable in some ways. However, they also served to allow me to reflect on the kinds of questions and challenges that are more important and far reaching than those of rubrics or law, but which are also served by those rubrics and law. So, I come away grateful for those persons who raised the issues and objected that such praxis as found in hermitages and the residences of CV's throughout the world contributes to the decline of Eucharistic worship and reverence. In so doing, they allowed me to begin reflecting anew on what Eucharistic reverence and worship really consists of. They return me anew to the center I had never really left. For this, I owe them my profoundest thanks!