31 March 2019

Oakland Civic Orchestra: from Recent Concert



While I am still missing playing in OCO (and will be for the next months), life in this wonderful amateur orchestra continues. The above was taken from last month's really amazing concert. It is Lincoln Portrait by Aaron Copland, with Christine Brandes, conductor; L. Peter Callender, narrator. [Martha Stoddard is Artistic Director and Conductor of Oakland Civic Orchestra.] Recorded live in concert on February 24, 2019.

Parables of the Prodigals (Reprised)


Commentators tend to name today's Gospel parable after the Merciful Father, because he is central to all the scenes (even when the younger Son is in a far off place, the Father waits silently, implicitly, in the wings). We should notice it is his foolish generosity that predominates, so in this sense, he too is prodigal. Perhaps then we should call this the parable of the Prodigal Father. The younger son squanders his inheritance, but the Father is also (in common terms and in terms of Jewish Law) foolish in giving him the inheritance, the "substance"  (literally, the ousias) of his own life and that of Israel. His younger Son treats him as dead (a sin against the Commandment to honor Father and Mother) and still this Father looks for every chance to receive him back. At the same time, the elder Son is prodigal in his own way (he denies or even throws away his Sonship by assuming the status of dutiful servant) so some commentators call this parable, "the parable of the prodigals".



When the younger son comes to his senses, rehearses his terms for coming home ("I will confess and be received back not as a Son, but as a servant,"), his Father, watching for his return, eagerly runs to meet him in spite of the offense represented in such an act, forestalls his confession, brings his Son into the center of the village thus rendering everything unclean according to the law, clothes him in the garb of Sonship and authority, kills the fatted calf and throws a welcome home party --- all heedless of the requirements of the law, matters of ritual impurity or repentance, etc. Meanwhile, the dutiful older son keeps the letter of the law of sonship but transgresses its essence and also treats his Father with dishonor. He is grudging, resentful, angry, blind, and petty in failing to recognize what is right before him all the time. He too is prodigal, allowing his authentic Sonship to die day by day as he assumes a more superficial role instead. And yet, the Father reassures him that what is the Father's is the Son's and what is the Son's is the Father's (which makes the Father literally an "ignorant man" in terms of the Law, an "am-haretz"). Contrary to the wisdom of the law, he continues to invite him into the celebration, a celebration of new life and meaning. He continues to treat him as a Son.

The theme of Law versus Gospel comes up strongly in this and other readings this week, though at first we may fail to recognize this. Paul recognizes the Law is a gift of God but without the power to move us to act as Sons and Daughters of God in the way Gospel does. When coupled with human sinfulness it can --- whether blatantly or insidiously --- be terribly destructive. How often as Christians do we act in ways which are allowed (or apparently commanded) by law but which are not really appropriate to Daughters and Sons of an infinitely merciful Father who is always waiting for our return, always looking for us to make the slightest responsive gesture in recognition of his presence, to "come to our senses", so that he can run to us and enfold us in the sumptuous garb of Daughterhood or Sonship? How often is our daily practice of our faith dutiful, and grudging but little more? How often do we act competitively or in resentment over others whose vocation is different than our own, whose place in the church (or the world of business, commerce, and society, for that matter) seems to witness to greater love from God? How often do we quietly despair over the seeming lack of worth of our lives in comparison to that of others? Whether we recognize it or not these attitudes are those of people motivated by law, not gospel. They are the attitudes of measurement and judgment, not of incommensurate love and generosity.

At the beginning of Lent we heard the fundamental choice of and in all choices put before us, "Choose life not death." Today that choice is sharpened and the subtle forms of death we often choose are set in relief: will we be Daughters and Sons of an infinitely and foolishly Merciful Father --- those who truly see and accept a love that is beyond our wildest imaginings and love others similarly, or, will we be prodigals in the pejorative sense, servants of duty, those who only accept the limited love we believe we have coming to us and who approach others competitively, suspiciously and without generosity? Will we be those whose notions of justice constrain God and our ability to choose the life he sets before us, or will we be those who are forgiven to the awesome degree and extent God is willing and capable of forgiving? Will we allow ourselves to be welcomed into a new life --- a life of celebration and joy, but also a life of greater generosity, responsibility, and God-given identity, or will we simply make do with the original prodigality of either the life of the younger or elder son? After all, both live dissipated lives in this parable: one flagrantly so, and one in quiet resentment, slavish dutifulness, and unfulfillment.

The choice before those living the latter kind of Christian life is no less significant, no less one of conversion than the choice set before the younger son. His return may be more dramatic, but that of the elder son demands as great a conversion. He must move from a quiet exile where he bitterly identifies himself as a slave rather than a free man or (even less) a Son. His own vision of his life and worth, his true identity, are little different than those of the younger son who returns home rehearsing terms of servility rather than sonship. The parable of the merciful Father puts before us two visions of life, and two main versions of prodigality; it thus captures the two basic meanings of prodigal: wasteful and lavish. There is the prodigality of the sons who allow the substance of their lives and identities to either be cast carelessly or slip silently away, the prodigality of those who lose their truest selves even as they grasp at wealth, adventure, duty, role, or other forms of security and "fulfillment". And there is the prodigality of the Father who loves and spends himself generously without limit or condition. In other words, there is death and there is life, law and gospel. Both stand before us ready to be embraced. Which form of prodigality will we choose? For indeed, the banquet hall is ready for us and the Father stands waiting at this very moment, ring, robe, and sandals in hand.

26 March 2019

Initiation into the Consecrated State: CCC par 944

[[Dear Sister what was the paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that says one enters the consecrated state through public profession alone? You put this up in the past but I couldn't locate the article. Thank you.]]

The paragraph is CCC 944. It is simple and straightforward and must be used when one deals with ambiguities in things like paragraphs 920-21 and the heading of the section in which these are included.

The paragraph reads: [[944 The life consecrated to God is characterized by the public profession of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, in a stable state of life recognized by the Church.]]

I have located one post with this reference and added the appropriate label; sorry to have left it out previously. cf: Follow up: On the Meaning of "Institutes", etc. If you are looking for a different post referring to this paragraph check the labels for either CCC par 920-21 or catechism pars 920-21 (these are related paragraphs and articles on these may include references to par 944). As I find other references to this specific paragraph (944) I will add appropriate labels.

25 March 2019

Bible Study on the Parables of Jesus Continues

gThe Bible study we began at my parish six or seven weeks ago (this week's sessions are the sixth of eight meetings) has been going well. My sense of the power of Jesus' parables has only been strengthened. In the past two sessions we spent 4 hours on just two parables in Matthew! (Ordinarily we break for 20-25 minutes to do individual lectio but for both of these parables folks were so engaged and the discussion so lively that we continued through the entire 2 hours; it was exhausting and exhilarating all at once.) What we were reading were, 1) Matt 18:23-34, the parable of the unmerciful or unforgiving servant (tomorrow's Gospel lection!), and 2) Matt 20:1-15, the parable of the workers in the vineyard. These particular stories of Jesus are often referred to as "antithetical" parables, that is, parables that say, "the Kingdom of God is NOT like this;" or "the Kingdom of God is opposed/antithetical to this."  In both of these I came to see the parable very differently than I once did and certainly came to a more profound sense of why it was Jesus' preaching could have gotten him crucified! Commentators who speak of such parables point out how Jesus' parables are examples of subversive speech, stories which undermine the dominant political, economic, and religious structures of the day. (cf William Herzog II, Parables as Subversive Speech, Jesus as Pedagogue to the Oppressed)

At the heart of the way Jesus' parables do this is the insight that sometimes we are so enmeshed in a situation that we can't even see ourselves as oppressed. When that is the case we need someone to hold a mirror up which reveals our own situation to us, which allows us to begin to think of ourselves in different terms, and which, when all goes well,  can challenge and empower us to change our society and our own lives to those of greater dignity and freedom. In the parable of the unmerciful servant the key question we must ask ourselves is, "Does the king in this parable represent God?" If the answer is yes, we will be led to say many things about divine justice, divine mercy, the actions taken by the servants, and the nature of the Kingdom of God which we would never say if we answered "No, the king in this parable does not represent God." Beyond this, the next questions we must ask ourselves are, "If the king represents (or does not represent) God, then for whom is this parable good news and why? For whom is it not and why not?"

The general opinion of both our morning and evening group was that the king was not a stand in for God in this parable. (A similar conclusion was shared by most --- but not all -- of us with regard to the Master of the Vineyard in the second parable.) The king did show the servant great mercy but this was sandwiched in between terrible harshness and merely served to demonstrate the tragic inconsistency and instability of a kingdom built around a human autocrat and despot. In the end we discussed the difference between human justice and the powerful and consistent mercy of God that does justice and how very difficult it is in our world to try to accept and live this mercy consistently. We simply do not trust it sufficiently, nor are our institutions structured to mediate this in a consistent or powerful way.

Sin is still at work in our world; it is present in everything we build or create and we are enmeshed in it in ways which make it almost impossible to see ourselves clearly or envision things differently. Jesus' parables -- and this is certainly true of the parable of the unmerciful servant -- give us a unique place to stand from which we can question everything we take for granted otherwise: our notions of justice and mercy, our sense that these complete one another, a sense that God's justice is the same as our own --- only writ very large, the sense that mercy is the weaker and exceptional element in the equation justice and mercy, the notion that if there is a heaven there must also be a hell where we are turned over to torturers as in the parable, and so forth.   If sin is at work, the parables are a place where grace reigns and can be encountered and allowed to embrace and change us. When we step into these unique stories, these sacred spaces where we meet the God Jesus knows intimately, we can begin to allow God to free us of the enmeshment that makes us so blind to the systemic evil that touches and tragically distorts everything we know. This is part of the power of Jesus' parables part of the way these often not-so-simple stories reveal a divine power which is made perfect in weakness.

Perhaps over time the mirror that Jesus holds up and the mercy he reveals (i.e., the mercy Jesus makes known and makes real in space and time) can lead those who are oppressed to a different world where God's mercy is sovereign, but in the meantime the questions these pose to his hearers include, "Can you believe that the God I reveal is not like this king only writ-infinitely-large? Can you believe that the God whose presence I mediate is not like this Vineyard owner only writ-large? Can you find it within yourselves to trust that the Kingdom I am proclaiming as being at-hand in my teaching and touching is vastly different from and even antithetical to the economic and political realms of this world --- and often to the religious ones as well? Can you trust that the way I assert my rights over this world, the way I do justice and set all things to rights, is through a greater mercy than you have ever known or even imagined? Can you trust that your own value, your own worth and dignity is infinite in my eyes, no matter the ways sin has degraded you?  Can you trust all this and build your lives on it? Will you do this?"

Jesus' parables can easily be domesticated; it takes little effort to turn them into quaint religious stories with some kind of comforting moral. When we do this they are neither truly good news for us or for anyone else except those who are comfortable in their current positions of power and privilege. But Jesus' stories are meant to turn things on their heads, they are meant to subvert the oppressive structures of this world and replace them with the Word of a God who frees and proclaims the dignity of the degraded, the anawim ("little ones") and marginalized of our world. Ash Wednesday found us marked with the cross and commissioned to "Repent and believe in the Gospel." As we move through our Lenten journey to the culmination of Jesus' life in death and resurrection we are asked to examine where we have placed our trust or found our true worth and dignity. If Jesus' parables, including his "antithetical parables" are genuinely Good News to us then perhaps they can empower us to make Jesus' prayer our own in ways that allow God's  "will (to) be done and (his) kingdom (to) come on earth as it is in heaven." I sincerely hope so!

Feast of the Annunciation (reprised)

I wonder what the annunciation of Jesus' conception was really like factually, what the angel's message (that is, God's own mediated message) sounded like and how it came to Mary. I imagine the months that would have passed without Mary having a period and her anguish and anxiety about what might be wrong, followed by a subtle sign here, an ambiguous symptom there, and eventually the full realization of the inexplicable fact that she was pregnant! That would have been a shock, of course, but even then it would have taken some time for the bone deep fear to register: "I have not been intimate with a man! I can be killed for this!" Only over more time would come first the even deeper sense that God had overshadowed her, and then, the assurance that she need not be afraid. God was doing something completely new and would stand by Mary just as he promised when he revealed himself originally to Moses as: "I will be who I will be," --- and "I will be present to you, never leaving you bereft or barren."

In the work I do with people in spiritual direction (and in my own inner work as well), one of the tools I (ask clients to) use sometimes is dialogue. The idea is to externalize and make explicit in writing the disparate voices we carry within us: it may be a conversation between the voice of reason and the voice of fear, or the voice of stubbornness or that of impulsivity and our wiser, more flexible selves who speak to and with one another at these times so that this existence may have a future marked by wholeness, holiness, and new life. As individuals become adept at doing these dialogues, they may even discover themselves echoing or revealing at one moment the very voice of God which dwells in the deepest, most real, parts of their heart as they simultaneously bring their most profound needs and fears to the conversation. Almost invariably these kinds of dialogues bring strength and healing, integration and faith. When I hear today's Gospel story I hear it as this kind of internal dialogue between the frightened, bewildered Mary and the deepest, truest, part of herself which is God's own Word and Spirit (breath) calling her to a selfhood of wholeness and fruitfulness beyond all she has known before but in harmony with her people's covenant traditions and promise.

This is the way faith comes to most of us, the way we come to know and hear and respond to the voice of God in our lives. For most of us the Word of God dwells within us and only gradually steps out of the background in response to our fears, confusion, and needs as we ponder them in our hearts --- just as Mary did her entire life, but especially at times like this. In the midst of turmoil, of events which turn life plans on their heads and shatter dreams, there in our midst will be the God of Moses and Mary and Jesus reminding us, "I will overshadow you; depend on me, say yes to this, open yourself to my promise and perspective and we will bring life and meaning out of this; together we will make a gift of this tragedy (or whatever the event is) for you and for the whole world! We will bring to birth a Word the world needs so desperately to hear: Be not afraid for I am with you. Do not be afraid for you are precious to me."

Annunciations happen to us every day: small moments that signal the advent of a new opportunity to hear, embody Christ, and gift him to others. Perhaps many are missed and fewer are heeded as Mary heeded her own and gave her fiat to the change which would make something entirely new of her life, her tradition, and her world. But Mary's story is very much our own story as well, and the Feast of Christ's nativity is meant to refer to his being born of us as well. The world into which he will be brought will not love him really --- not if he is the Jesus our Scriptures and our creeds proclaim. (We bear this very much in mind during Lent and especially at the approach of Holy Week.) But our own fiat ("Here I am Lord, I come to do your will!") will be accompanied by the reassuring voice of God: "I will overshadow you and accompany you. Our stories are joined now, inextricably wed as I say yes to you and you say yes to me. Together we create the future. Salvation will be born from this union. Be not afraid!"

20 March 2019

Follow-up on Non-Profit Status

 [[Sister, Thank you for your answer to my last question. It was very helpful. If you don't mind though, let me ask for clarification on one point. I asked about diocesan hermits and you referred to those professed under c 603. Are there any other Catholic hermits but who do not qualify for non-profit status? Could "Joyful Hermit" the author of the blog I cited be a different kind of Catholic hermit who therefore doesn't qualify for 501(c)3? Does the Church verify a person's standing and eligibility in such cases?]]

Thanks for the follow-up questions. The simple answer to both of these is no. Catholic hermits may be solitary (c 603, what is called "diocesan") or belong to religious congregations (institutes). Either of these kinds of hermits may establish themselves or their ministries under 501(c)3 --- (in the case of a hermit who belongs to a congregation, the congregation might establish themselves in this way). There are no other hermits who qualify to be called "Catholic Hermits" because there are no others who are publicly professed or consecrated; at the same time then --- there are no other hermits who may qualify (qua hermits) for 501(c)3 status.

Yes, such standing, whether of a solitary hermit or a congregation of hermits, requires (and such hermits are able to supply) the Church's verification of consecrated status (canonical standing) --- hence, for instance, the affidavit diocesan hermits are given at perpetual profession/consecration identifying them as hermits of the Diocese of ____. This does not mean merely that they are a hermit with private vows living in the Diocese of ___. It means they represent eremitical life in the name of the Church, are thus publicly professed, consecrated, and commissioned in this specific local Church under the canonical supervision or jurisdiction of the hermit's Bishop; they may, therefore, become 501(c)3 or establish themselves publicly in other ways (including wearing a habit, for instance, or styling themselves as Sister or Brother). Folks in private vows, including priests and lay people who are living as hermits may not set themselves up as 501(c)3 hermits/hermitages because they do not live their eremitical callings in the name of the Church (that is, they are not called, vowed or dedicated and commissioned as well as supervised by the Church per se).

As you may remember, there are three avenues to eremitical life in the church today. The first two are canonical and involve consecration (initiation into the consecrated state) by God through the mediation of the Church. These are 1) congregations of hermits in canonical communities and 2) solitary hermits professed and consecrated under canon 603. Both are public and ecclesial vocations which represent some expression of the eremitical life lived in the Church's name --- the Catholic eremitical life. The third avenue is non-canonical or privately dedicated eremitical life (either lay or clerical).

These "third avenue" vocations may be lived alone as solitary hermits (most common) or in communities of hermits (less common) and are important vocations; they may well be sterling expressions of eremitical life that speak especially well to other lay persons who may underestimate their own call to prayer, holiness, silence and solitude, or their responsibility to live countercultural lives for example (this situation is often a tragic holdover from times when the lay vocation was not adequately esteemed and was played off against supposedly "higher" vocations like consecrated life); thus, these vocations possess great dignity and the Church esteems them highly. Even so, as noted many times here, they do not represent instances of the consecrated state of life nor do they represent "ecclesial vocations" per se which can thus use the title "Catholic" to refer directly to their eremitical life, their congregational standing, or their commissioning by the Church  -- e.g., Catholic congregations, Catholic Hermits, Catholic theologians, and so forth. Such hermits are Catholic and hermits, but they are not Catholic Hermits. Think here of the analogy of a police officer living in San Francisco and working for the SMPD and the City of San Mateo; such an officer is not a San Francisco Police Officer.

19 March 2019

Reflection from Friday, First Week of Lent

We all have stories about times when we were somehow labeled or called a name which demeaned us. It happens in all kinds of situations -- not always out of maliciousness. Once when I was a patient having some experimental surgery to control seizures a doctor identified me to a resident physician as, "Dr Feinstein's TLE" -- that is, "Dr Feinstein's Temporal Lobe epileptic". It was hurtful and exacerbated my own difficulty in seeing myself as someone apart from my illness. Similarly, a friend grew up with an older brother who regularly called her "stupid." Unfortunately, she internalized the label and thought of herself as "stupid." Throughout her youth and even into adulthood she was hampered by an inability to see herself for who she actually was -- a truly brilliant and gifted young woman. The inability or refusal to see a person as person, to conflate them with labels, with some illness, failing, condition, ethnicity, etc., this very specific form of blindness is at the root so much of the sin that distorts our world; it is at the root of so much of the violence and cruelty we hear about every day. It is a form of killing which in some ways destroys (dehumanizes) both the one labelled and the one doing the labeling.

In Matthew's gospel text from last Friday we are given the example of this same form of blindness and dehumanization; in this case though the situation is worsened considerably by anger. Matt recounts a story of someone blinded in this way who can only see a person as "fool" or "imbecile" or the impossible-to-translate "Raqa!" It can lead one to even greater blindness and actual murder. Matthew does not believe the Law and Gospel oppose one another; he understands that the Gospel radicalizes the Law and empowers its fulfillment. Just a few verses before Friday's pericope Matt has Jesus affirming that he does not come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it! But what Matthew also knows is a God whose justice is not in opposition to Divine mercy; rather God fulfills justice in mercy. Mercy is the radicalization of justice; in fact, it is the paradoxically powerful way God does justice! God always says "Yes!" to the person as person even as God says "no!" to the sin, or illness, or brokenness. In other words, in this case, what human beings blindly and even sinfully conflate, God separates and makes right. His mercy is powerful because it always affirms the person as person. Over time, allowing God to love us in this way separates us from our sin, illness, brokenness, etc., changes our hearts and allows us to see ourselves and others with new eyes.

This is the greater righteousness Matthew's Gospel calls all those who would be followers of Jesus to as well. It is not enough merely to refrain from actual murder; we must allow ourselves to come to see the person as person. Whatever healing and conversion of mind and heart is required for this to occur within us is something we must undertake and give real priority to. This is what Matt is speaking of when he tells us to leave our gift at the altar and go and reconcile with our brother or sister. Matthew loves hyperbole: "If your eye offends, tear it out!", "Why do you not take care of the log in your own eye before trying to extract the splinter from your neighbor's eye?" and this encouragement to leave our gift is another bit of hyperbole. But the priority is real and literal: we cannot pretend to worship God in truth if we have not given priority to relating to our brothers and sisters in truth! We must give priority to changing our minds and hearts in a way which allows us to separate the person from any labels we may apply and to see them as persons.

As God has mercy on us, as God says "Yes" to us and "No" to our sin, so must we learn to do to everyone we meet. Only in this way can we heal our world of the bigotry, resentment, etc. and the anger that inflames these even whipping them into a firestorm that overtakes our world in acts of outright murder like we saw Thursday in New Zealand. We must learn to stop conflating qualities with the person themselves. We must do this for ourselves and for all others: after all, I have Temporal Lobe Epilepsy; I AM Laurel, beloved daughter of God! That person practices Judaism or Islam or Christianity (etc.); even more fundamentally they ARE (Personal Names) beloved children of God! We each and all sin, sometimes grievously ---but as persons we each remain beloved daughters and sons of God --- and we are so only through a Divine mercy that does justice in our world!

The responsorial psalm on Friday reminded us again and again, "If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, Lord who can stand?" It is the mercy of God that says yes to us as persons that allows us to stand tall in our own deepest truth even as it moves us away from our sin and brokenness; it is that same mercy mediated through us that will allow others to stand tall in their own truth even as it defeats the anger, resentment, bigotry and simple thoughtlessness that so demean, dehumanize and kill.

17 March 2019

Second Sunday of Lent: Considering The Transfiguration (reprised)

Transfiguration by Lewis Bowman
Have you ever been walking along a well-known road and suddenly had a bed of flowers take on a vividness which takes your breath away? Similarly, have you ever been walking along or sitting quietly outside when a breeze rustles some leaves above your head and you were struck breathless by an image of the Spirit moving through the world? I have had both happen, and, in the face of God's constant presence, what is in some ways more striking is how infrequent such peak moments are.

Scientists tell us we see only a fraction of what goes on all around us. In part it depends upon our expectations. In an experiment with six volunteers divided into two teams in either white or black shirts, observers were asked to concentrate on the number of passes of a basketball that occurred as players wove in and out around one another. In the midst of this activity a woman in a gorilla suit strolls through, stands there for a moment, thumps her chest, and moves on. At the end of the experiment observers were asked two questions: 1) how many passes were there, and 2) did you see the gorilla? Fewer than 50% saw the gorilla. Expectations drive perception and can produce blindness. Even more shocking, these scientists tell us that even when we are confronted with the truth we are more likely to insist on our own "knowledge" and justify decisions we have made on the basis of blindness and ignorance. We routinely overestimate our own knowledge and fail to see how much we really do NOT know.

For the past two weeks we have been reading the central chapter of Matthew's Gospel --- the chapter that stands right smack in the middle of his version of the Good News. It is Matt's collection of Jesus' parables --- the stories Jesus tells to help break us open and free us from the common expectations, perspectives, and wisdom we hang onto so securely so that instead we might commit to the Kingdom of God and the vision of reality it involves. Throughout this collection of parables Jesus takes the common, too-well-known, often underestimated and unappreciated bits of reality which are right at the heart of his hearers' lives. He uses them to reveal the extraordinary God who is also right there in front of his hearers. Stories of tiny seeds, apparently completely invisible once they have been tossed about by a prodigal sower, clay made into works of great artistry and function, weeds and wheat which reveal a discerning love and judgment which involves the careful and sensitive harvesting of the true and genuine --- all of these and more have given us the space and time to suspend our usual ways of seeing and empower us to adopt the new eyes and hearts of those who dwell within the Kingdom of God.

Taking Offense at Jesus:

It was the recognition of the unique authority with which Jesus taught, the power of his parables in particular which shifted the focus from the stories to the storyteller in the Gospel passage we heard last Friday. Jesus' family and neighbors did not miss the unique nature of Jesus' parables; these parables differ in kind from anything in Jewish literature and had a singular power which went beyond the usual significant power of narrative. They saw this clearly. But they also refused to believe the God who revealed himself in the commonplace reality they saw right in front of them. Despite the authority Jesus possessed which they could not deny, they chose to see only the one they expected to see; they decided they saw only the son of Mary, the son of Joseph and "took offense at him." Their minds and hearts were closed to who Jesus really was and to the God he revealed. Similarly, Jesus' disciples too could not really accept an anointed one who would have to suffer and die. Peter especially refuses to accept this.

It is in the face of these situations that we hear today's Gospel of the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain apart. He takes them away from the world they know (or believe they know) so well, away from peers, away from their ordinary perspective, and he invites them to see who he really is. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus' is at prayer --- attending to the most fundamental relationship of his life --- when the Transfiguration occurs. Matthew does not structure his account in the same way. Instead he shows Jesus as the one whose life is a profound dialogue with God's law and prophets, who is in fact the culmination and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the culmination of the Divine-Human dialogue we call covenant. He is God-with-us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place. This is what the disciples see --- not so much a foretelling of Jesus' future glory as the reality which stands right in front of them --- if only they had the eyes to see.

Learning to See With New Eyes:

I watched a video today of a man who was given Enchroma glasses --- a form of sunglasses that allows colorblind persons to see color, often for the first time in their lives. By screening out certain wavelengths of light, someone who has seen the world in shades of brown their whole lives are finally able to see things they have never seen before; browns are transformed into yellows and reds and purples and suddenly trees look truly green and three-dimensional or the colorful fruit of these trees no longer simply blend into the same-color background. The man was overwhelmed and overcome by what he had been missing; he could not speak, did not really know what to do with his hands, was "reduced" to tears and eventually expressed it all as he hugged his wife in love and gratitude. Meanwhile, family members were struck with just how much they themselves may have taken for granted as everyday they moved through their own world of "ordinary" color and texture. The entire situation involved a Transfiguration almost as momentous as the one the disciples experienced in today's Gospel.

For most of us, such an event would overwhelm us with awe and gratitude as well. But not Peter --- at least it does not seem so to me! Instead he outlines a project to reprise the Feast of Tabernacles right then and there. In this story Peter reminds me some of those folks (myself included!) who want so desperately to hang onto and even control amazing prayer experiences --- immediately making them the basis for some ministerial project or other; unfortunately, in doing so, they, in acting too quickly and even precipitously, fail to appreciate these experiences fully or learn to live from them! Peter is, in some ways, a kind of lovable but misguided buffoon ready to similarly build booths for Moses, Elijah and Jesus in a way which is consistent with his tradition --- while neglecting the qualitative newness and personal challenge of what has been revealed and needs to be processed in personal conversion. In some way Matt does not spell out explicitly, Peter has missed the point. And in the midst of Peter's well-meaning activism comes God's voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" In my reflection on this reading this last weekend, I heard something more: "Peter! Sit down! Shut up! This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!!!"

Like Peter, and like the colorblind man who needed wear the glasses consistently enough to allow his brain to really begin to process colors in a new way, we must take the time to see what is right in front of us. We must see the sacred which is present and incarnated in ordinary reality. We must listen to the One who comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments, the One who speaks to us through every believer and the whole of creation. We must really be the People of God, the "hearers of the Word" who know how to listen and are obedient in the way God summons us to be. This is true whether we are God's lowliest hermit or one of the Vicars of Christ who govern our dioceses and college of Bishops. Genuine authority coupled with true obedience empowers new life, new vision, new perspectives and reverence for the ordinary reality God makes Sacramental. There is a humility involved in all of this. It is the humility of the truly wise, the truly knowing person. We must be able to recognize how very little we see, how unwilling or unable we often are to be converted to the perspective of the Kingdom, how easily we justify our blindness and deafness with our supposed knowledge, and how even our well-intentioned activism can prevent us from seeing and hearing the unexpected, sometimes scandalous God standing there right in the middle of our reality.

10 March 2019

Moving Back into "the World"?

[[Sister did you ever think that by "taking on" Bible study you were turning away from your vocation. The Bible tells us that we shouldn't look back after putting our hand to the plow! Aren't you moving back into the world God called you to leave?]]

Thanks for your email. The question regarding whether anything new I take on is a form of flight or escape from some dimension of my vocation or a way of living it inauthentically always comes up in discernment, so yes, I certainly considered these questions. I sense in your second question a dichotomous view of reality I don't share. I don't believe we can treat the hermitage as one reality and "the world" as reality outside the hermitage. As I have written here before, if we do this, we will soon discover, perhaps to our great shock, that upon closing the hermitage door we have shut ourselves in with "the world" that lives and is deeply lodged within our hearts, minds, and limbs. In a post I put up recently Thomas Merton describes this as merely having isolated oneself "with a tribe of devils." The "world" hermits and monastics turn from when they accept the call to seek God in silence and solitude is the world of "that which is resistant to Christ." It is the world which believes in values which are illusory --- values which promise fulfillment but which leave us empty and hungry for that which is lasting and completes us.

Remember that not everything outside the hermitage is "the world" in this sense. In fact, since God is present within the whole world making all of it at least potentially sacramental, and since God can be found in the ordinary things of the world around us, we identify "the world" the hermit (or monastic) "flees" with all of that only at our peril. But I have written about this before so I invite you to check out other articles on the term "the world" or "stricter separation from the world". Some will refer to Thomas Merton's reflections on "the world" the danger of hypostasizing this term. Merton stresses that we need to learn to see everything in God, that is, we must learn to see everything in its truest sense. "The world" is a kind of illusory seeing which prevents our doing this. Freeing ourselves of this illusory (and sometimes delusional) perspective while learning to see everything as God sees is what monastics and eremites do to as part of "leaving the world." A commitment to the life of God on behalf of the other is another part of "leaving the world", physical separation in the silence of solitude and prayer is another part. All of these are true especially for a hermit living in eremitical silence and solitude.

My own work with regard to Scripture study, at least so far, is proving to be a significant and concrete expression of this commitment. It does not detract from but rather is an expression of it which paradoxically calls me to live my eremitical life with even greater fidelity, imagination, energy, and love. So, yes, my life of solitude gives me something concrete (as well as many things which are less tangible) to share with my parish/diocese just as the small time I am giving to them strengthens my own eremitical life both in returning me again and again to Scripture and in allowing me encounters with people I will carry in my heart back into the solitude. God is alive and very active in all of this and it is in this way I move forward to live more deeply perhaps, the eremitical life God has called me to. You see, I think this means I am moving into the world God has called me to love and I am doing that precisely as a hermit who has and does embrace "stricter separation from the world" in ways which help me to grow in the silence of solitude (the very goal of eremitical solitude and silence).

09 March 2019

On Discernment of Active Ministry

[[Hi Sister Laurel, I am interested in how you discerned or do discern doing something like the Scripture you are doing at your parish. I want to emphasize I believe it is fine that you do this; I am not criticizing, but I wondered how you approached taking it on. How did you know it was right for you? Were you unhappy with your eremitical life in some way? Also, do you think all hermits should do this (not Scripture, I mean, but doing something at their parish like this)? Did you need permission to do this? I was intrigued that you said you were loving it so I wonder too why you didn't do this sooner. Please just answer in terms of your discernment process if parts of my questions are too personal.]]

Wonderful questions, thank you! The possibility of doing this came up about three or four months ago. We had had someone doing Scripture for a number of years and he stopped about two years ago. I was unaware he had had to stop so the word I heard those months ago was my first sense of this. Even so it gave me time to seriously consider what I might do if I discerned it was something I was both able and was called to do. So, how did I discern this?

First, let me say that I am still engaged in discernment in this matter. After prayer I spoke with my director and then with my pastor to see if there were any immediate reservations or if the parish had already planned on asking someone else to take this on. I also determined that I could offer to do so for a certain time period while I discerned how this worked in my eremitical life. As a result of discussion with my director and pastor it seemed a good idea to commit to this for a year and, rather than do it week in and week out, plan a number of series with breaks between each one. This would allow continuing  discernment not only during the series but also in the time between them.

But the general "rule" of discernment was to pay attention to how this activity affected my life, first my own inner life, and then too my external life. After all, discernment is a process of listening to our hearts, to our deepest selves and to the God that dwells therein. So for instance, whether I am doing the class or preparing for it I am reading Scripture and commentators on Scripture; and what was true was that every time I opened the pages of the parables themselves or read those who had explored them I found myself getting excited, experiencing an energy and an intensification of my own centeredness, as well as experiencing those times of synchronicity that occur when we are right at the center where we ought to be.

Similarly, I noticed that prayer, relationships, personal work (direction) all flowed together with this work and I experienced that in the act of teaching/sharing Scripture I was also "revealing" the very nature of what eremitical life (being alone with God for the sake of others) makes me to be; I had the sense that perhaps people in the class were getting a glimpse of my heart and the way Scripture nourishes and inspires my life. In other words, I had an experience of being precisely the hermit I am called to be even (and perhaps especially) in the midst of such activity. It was a surprising and paradoxical experience of being more profoundly hermit in and because of this activity because God who calls me to eremitical solitude was clearly at work in it energizing me, loving me, and freeing me to love in this specific way as a natural expression and extension of my solitude in and of the hermitage.

I have always stressed that eremitical life is a unique form of life in community. What I have found thus far in doing this series was that certain kinds of communal activities can not only enhance but also reveal (make real in space and time) the deepest core of one's solitary call. Most of the time what I do and even who I am is hidden from the people in my parish. They catch glimpses at liturgy, parish functions, or an occasional coffee. But in this specific series (and while the series is not about this, of course) it may be that folks are seeing where I am most alive, most myself, and also truly solitary, namely in my engagement with God in prayer and in Scripture. This was really a revelation to me and it suggests that my discernment in this is sound.

Need for Permission?

In a sense I have to say, no I did not need permission to do this if you mean did I ask someone (bishop or delegate) for permission. Of course I needed my pastor's agreement to do it and I discussed the matter with my director. She was helpful in assisting me to listen to my deepest self, to the reasons the project was intriguing to me, and the ways it would change my life. We talked about shifts in energy levels, how this corresponded to the progress in the inner work we have been doing and what new demands on my health, horarium, etc this project would entail; we set up parameters which would allow me to step back from the project if it was not a way of appropriately honoring both my commitment to my eremitical life and to my parish family whom I am called to love in real and concrete ways. Finally we have discussed and evaluated my experience as the series has proceeded and noted its impact on everything else.  I think you can see that once all this is done "permission" is not precisely needed or something I requested. At the same time I can say I undertook this project with the prayers and blessing of my director/delegate.

Should All Hermits Do Something Like This?

No, I don't think all hermits will be called to do something like this nor would it be right for them. I think it happens on an individual basis and can only be embraced when the person is solid in their eremitical solitude and their sense of the uniquely communal nature of that solitude. Also, I think it is critical that the hermit have accepted that eremitical life may require giving up the use of every discrete gift and talent to witness to the fulfillment that comes in God alone. I could not have done this sooner, at least not in the past several years, but now circumstances are changing and that makes it an appropriate time to consider something like this ( this is one of those experiences of synchronicity I mentioned above). One must be able to undertake this as a hermit --- not in the sense of living a role or doing it because someone outside the hermitage says one should be doing this, but rather, it is a matter of being a hermit through and through and, again, working out what are appropriate natural expressions of that.

When this is true one may experience the freedom to do such a project. (Remember, Christian freedom is the power to be the person we are called to be, not merely by filling a role or being someone on whom a title has been bestowed but by being a Self in God and standing in the truth of that Selfhood.) In this project I am being true to my self-as-hermit and especially as a consecrated hermit with a specifically ecclesial vocation. And no, I could not have done this if I was unhappy in some way with my life as a hermit. This is another paradox. Unhappiness in my vocation would have prevented me from undertaking this project; it would have taken me away from solitude or an inner "quies" and the energy that comes from this. Rather, it is precisely my happiness in eremitical life that makes it possible to be true to myself in this way without diminishment but rather with an enrichment of eremitical solitude. I hope this is helpful. It was difficult to describe how things come together in discernment and I found it especially difficult to articulate the paradox of  contemplative solitude being fully revealed in a bit of active ministry. So again, I hope this is helpful.

08 March 2019

National Catholic Sisters Week

 
As I noted a few posts back, while preparing the series on parables I am currently doing for my parish, I spent some time reflecting on and praying with the parable of the buried treasure. I posed questions to myself after each phrase in the pericope as a way of allowing the parable to speak to me or (potentially) to participants in the series. First, "What is this treasure?" Then, "Have you ever known anyone who has sold everything to follow Christ?" In my mind a number of people popped up, all but one of them Religious Sisters, many deceased, but some who continue today to pour out their lives day in and day out so that others might have the abundant life Jesus came to bring. Many of these have celebrated or approach the celebration of at least their 60th Jubilee -- that is, at least 60 years of service as Consecrated Religious.
 
Today, when many communities and congregations are nearing and consciously and prayerfully working out their own process of "completion," that is, when many congregations are writing the final chapters in their community's lives in ways that will ensure their Missions and charisms live on beyond them,  it is a bittersweet but very real honor to celebrate all those whose consecrated lives have revealed the Reign of God more fully day in and day out. Thanks and praise be to God!

On Fasting: Attending to Our Deepest Needs and Hungers

Today's readings are all about fasting: proper fasting, improper fasting; fasting that pleases God, fasting that does not; fasting that causes fights and grumbling, fasting that is a genuine and fruitful sacrifice and leads to reconciliation with our deepest selves, our God, and others. When I was a student my major professor was quite emphatic that, "Fasting is not intrinsic to Christianity" or "Fasting is not essential to Christianity" or "There is nothing about fasting that is essentially Christian." At the time I didn't realize John intended to provoke reflection; my conclusion re fasting was instead something like, "Oh, well, in that case toss the practice out!" But of course the question and nature of fasting is much more nuanced than that and while it not essential to Christianity, it remains an important piece of spiritual growth.

Let's be clear though. Fasting does not make us holy; it makes us hungry.  It is what we do with our hunger that can lead to holiness. Specifically, fasting can help put us in touch with our deepest hungers, our most profound needs. Turning to God with these and then in gratitude to our hungry world is what can make us holy. But we need to pay attention! We need to approach fasting as a tool which can make us a bit more vulnerable and open to knowing ourselves, a bit more open to turning to God with and in that vulnerability, and a bit more committed to listening to the rumblings and murmurings of hunger that make themselves known not merely in our stomachs, but in our hearts. Only after we have attended to these signals within us can we become better able to hear the murmurings and pain of others, the deep cries of their hungers and yearnings. Only then will our compassion be awakened and grow to allow us to sacrifice for these others in the ways Isaiah (and Jesus!)` calls for.

Fasting thus has two purposes: 1) to open us to our own deepest needs and to the God who meets them --- whether in prayer or through the mediation of others, and 2) to sensitize us to the needs of others and empower a compassionate solidarity with them which may help us meet their needs on many levels. It falls along a three point arc which defines Lenten praxis in Catholic parishes all over the world, viz., fasting, prayer, almsgiving. We begin with fasting to awaken our minds, hearts, and bodies to the needs that define us in part; we proceed by bringing all of ourselves, but especially our deepest needs for fulfillment and healing to God so that God may work within us and touch us wherever and in whatever way God wills (we pray so God's own hunger to be God-for-and-with-us may also be met). We then act in gratitude to and compassion toward those whose lives are similarly fraught with the need to hear the Word and touch of the Merciful God who is Love-in-Act.

In today's Communion Service I passed on something my director brought for me when we met earlier this week, namely, a list Pope Francis put out a couple of years ago under the title, Do You Want to Fast this Lent? Here it is:

Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.


But the move, for instance, from hurting words to kind words is not automatic. There is a reason (even numerous reasons!) for bitterness which needs to be addressed in some fashion. Thus, between the terms in each of Pope Francis' sentences something more than an act of will is required. I suggested folks take some time to get in touch with the feelings and needs underlying the hurting words, sadness, anger, pessimism,. . . bitterness, etc, take these to prayer and prepare themselves with the grace of God to move to the alternative: kind words, gratitude, patience, and so forth. I make the same suggestion here. In this we will find over time that fasting prepares for and gives way to feasting as God's love, in whatever way that comes to us, heals and empowers us to mediate that same Presence to others. All those years ago Prof Dwyer was correct: fasting is not essential to Christianity. But John, I think, was not encouraging us to throw the practice out; he was provoking us to think and pray and find the proper place fasting does hold in our faith, viz it is a means toward growth in compassion that can nourish and heal our whole world.

All good wishes for a fruitful, nourishing, and healing Lent!

06 March 2019

What Happens to You if your Bishop Moves?

[[Dear Sister Laurel, what happens to a diocesan hermit whose bishop is assigned to another diocese or becomes an Archbishop there? I know this happened to you. I read that a canonical hermit's professing bishop remains liable and responsible for supervising and directing (spiritual direction) the hermit even after he leaves a diocese: [[Finally, when the hermit is canonically approved, one can contact that person's bishop who is liable and responsible for supervising and the spiritual direction of said hermit. This is the case, even if the bishop has left the diocese where and in whose hands (so to speak, per CL603), the hermit has professed his or her vows.]] (https://catholichermit.blogspot.com/2019/03/catholic-hermit-handling-hermit-wrong.html)

Thanks for the question. I don't know how common these misunderstandings are; I think this is the second or third time I have written about it (not a problem, of course), but no, this view of the way eremitical profession and mutual ecclesial accountability works for the diocesan hermit and her professing bishop is all wrong. First, a diocesan hermit is professed by the local or diocesan Church in the hands of the local ordinary on behalf of the Universal Church. So, for instance, I made my perpetual vows in the hands of Archbishop Allen Vigneron (then Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland) in Sept 2007. Whatever happens to Archbishop Vigneron subsequently (in this case he moved back to Detroit and was made Archbishop), I remain a "Hermit of the Diocese of Oakland." This also means that whichever bishops follow Archbishop Vigneron as ordinaries of the Diocese of Oakland, they will each become my legitimate superior in turn and assume responsibility for and authority over my vocation as I live that out  --- though the daily exercise of an authority or responsibility that empowers my own accountability usually falls to my delegate (Sister Marietta Fahey, SHF) and (to a much lesser degree at this point) co-delegate (Sister Susan Blomstad, OSF). (The idea of co-delegates is new and we are finding our way here.) Bishops exercise their jurisdiction until they move on to another See (as Bishop Cordileone also did when he became Archbishop of San Francisco.)

Not only is this a matter of jurisdiction under canon law (jurisdiction of a bishop over one's own diocese and subjects), but in entirely human and pragmatic ways it makes little sense to expect a bishop to retain responsibility for supervising a diocesan hermit after that bishop leaves a diocese. How could anyone (hermit or bishop) expect to maintain or grow a relationship in which meaningful authority and mutual accountability are exercised if the bishop  moves (for instance!) to the Archdiocese of Detroit while the hermit remains (for instance!) in the Diocese of Oakland (for the diocesan bishop is accountable for the diocesan's hermit's vocational well-being just as she is accountable to the Church through him)?

Other inaccuracies involve the affirmation that the bishop remains responsible for the hermit's spiritual direction and the notion of liability. In fact a diocesan bishop is rarely if ever a diocesan hermit's spiritual director because of potential clash between internal and external forums (fora). (As legitimate superior the bishop has authority over external matters; the spiritual director deals with matters of conscience and the hermit's inner life which may not be things the hermit can or would normally bring to one's legitimate superior.) This is not a matter of secrecy, much less lack of frankness but rather of ensuring the bishop's ability to act as superior is not muddled with matters better handled by one entirely committed to confidentiality. (Personally I find the separation between internal and external forums can be much less absolute with regard to delegates but this should be discerned; it will depend on the authority granted her and also on how she exercises that authority with regard to the hermit.) Also, as a matter of terminology, Canon 603 refers to the hermit's bishop as "director" but this does not mean "spiritual director"; it means director like "director of formation," "director of novices," "director of juniors," etc., in religious life. In these situations those in formation, etc., will have their own spiritual directors entirely separate from their legitimate superiors or "directors".

As to remaining liable for a hermit's behavior, the statement cited is flat wrong. This is something I have also addressed before (please see other articles on bishop as legitimate superior) but be aware that c 603 hermits sign waivers of liability at perpetual profession which free a diocese of any liability for remuneration (say, in a claim for wages) or costs tied to dimensions of the hermit's life or behavior. It is true that a diocesan bishop is responsible for dealing with the hermit's problems (or problems with the hermit for that matter!) but neither the diocese nor the bishop personally is in any way liable for debts accrued by the hermit, or, should this occur, costs associated with any misbehavior on the hermit's part. This of course does not suggest a bishop will not discipline a hermit if the need ever arises but it does say the diocese and ordinary are not liable for damages or debts if these should ever occur.

05 March 2019

Once Again on Right-handed vs Left-handed Power: Mark 4 and the Stilling of the Storm

[[Dear Sister, in two of your recent posts you are saying that the kind of Messiah Jesus becomes depends on how he discerns the will of God, am I right? And that means that the kind of disciples he calls us to be depends on the kind of Messiah he will be and we will accept. If Mark is saying Jesus wants his disciples to accept a Messiah who needs to suffer and die to do the will of God why does he still the storm at the end of Chapter 4? I read the chapter and that seems to conflict with the rest of it. By the way, thanks for sharing more of that prayer experience. Has it caused you to conclude that God did not want you to be well or that He wanted you to be sick? I think that could be very difficult to hear!]]

Great questions! Thank you! As I read the piece about stilling the storm I hear it in two or three ways: First, it serves as a kind of second bookend pairing the one in the section preceding the chapter of the seed parables with the statements about Jesus as the strong man who will destroy the kingdom of Satan, or being recognized as one who speaks/teaches with a hitherto unknown authority (exousia, power). That first section (Mark 1-3) is full of healings and exorcisms --- right-handed acts of power. Jesus is affirmed as "Son of God" ---and "beloved Son" which means he is a hearer of the Word; in Judaism he would have been understood to embody the foundational Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One. . ." and thus, be the human being uniquely empowered by the creative Word of God. All of this is followed by parables which point away from a Kingdom of God as commonly understood --- a Kingdom establishing Israel as preeminent amongst the kingdoms of this world with a militaristic Messiah. But Jesus is still the "Strong Man", the One who represents and reveals (makes known and real in space and time) the Creator God. If he embraces a Messiahship that is worked out in weakness, suffering, and even in death, it must be seen as a choice rooted in his discernment of the will of God and a paradoxical act of power.

Secondly, I think in stilling the storm Jesus essentially says to his disciples, "Remember who I am! Remember whom you are asking whether I care if you perish!!" We can think of it as an enacted parable perhaps, a way of saying, "Will you follow me in my understanding of the will and mission of God or not?" The right-handed use of power serves to ease the disciples' fear, to assure them of Jesus' identity, and remind them that he does indeed participate in the power of God in ways they have never seen before. It underscores that Jesus is compassionate and can work wonders (in the NT, what we call miracles are called works of power) that only God would be expected to do.

Finally and above all, I think this enacted parable asks the disciples yet again if they will trust Jesus and follow him --- even if his choices take them along a path to violent death.  Mark writes his story this way to address his community who are being persecuted and are in some real danger of death. Similar questions are put to them when they wonder if God cares that they are in danger of perishing: can you trust the Crucified Messiah is really the "Strong Man", the embodiment of the Wisdom and Word of God?

And as he addresses them so does he address us: Can you trust that the way Jesus brings redemption is the left-handed way of power that will include suffering, that reveals itself in weakness but that accompanies us in every moment and mood of our existence thus transforming our lives with God's presence? Can you trust the paradox of the Cross, that eternal life and the reconciliation of the whole cosmos comes through scandalous (offensive) death revealing that ultimately no one and nothing is abandoned by the God whose Love is stronger than  death? Do you believe not just in the death of Jesus but in his resurrection? Do you believe the Messiah who reveals that when all the props are kicked out God accompanies us in an ultimately meaningful way? Can you trust that when patience seems impossible and perseverance may feel meaningless, when the notion of a God whose power is made perfect in weakness seems ridiculous and your own discipleship feels like foolishness in the face of the world's power that the Crucified Messiah is truly Emmanuel, God-With-Us?  Can you believe that he makes known and real in human history a God who can be absolutely trusted to be with and for you even to the depths of sin and death and that this God will bring new life forth from these even as he reconciles the whole of creation to (Him)self?

On God Willing Illness:

No, I never concluded that God wanted me to be ill. I don't believe God ever wills illness. However, I did conclude that in some way God knew that my illness could serve his will and my own discipleship because it called me to a discipleship allowing God's faithful accompaniment and my own growth in trust.  I had no idea how that could be or what shape that would take in in my own life or the life of others but my own sense of God's power experienced in that prayer eased my concern and helped me be open in spite of difficulties. What I do know, however, was that during this prayer I was entirely safe in God's hands. I think my director knew that as well. In any case one thing I took from this prayer experience was a sense of fundamental security in spite of illness or anything else. In time illness led me to consider eremitical life where I might never have done so otherwise and over time it has allowed me to do inner work I would never have been able to commit to otherwise. I have always been fascinated by paradox and the theology of Paul; chronic illness has provided a context for really understanding these more deeply and for learning to trust God in every situation.

While I cannot say this is a form of discipleship I would have chosen, especially when I was younger, nor one that I find all that easy to be faithful to sometimes, I am grateful to be called to it. I too have wanted God to act with right-handed power in my life, or to reveal things in ways that short-circuited long periods of waiting and patience (or impatience!!). But the Gospel of Mark inspires me and the parables of the seeds especially remind me that God's power is certain; thus I trust the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: [[Not everything that happens is the will of God, but inevitably, nothing that happens does so outside the will of God!]] The Apostle Paul affirmed a God who could bring life out of death, good out of evil, and meaning out of absurdity. Mark also knew that well and the story (the enacted parable) of the stilling of the storm reminded his disciples just who it was sleeping peacefully in the midst of chaos even as it called them to faith in a sometimes-shocking God.

03 March 2019

A Contemplative Moment: Solitude is not Separation

 
Solitude is Not Separation
by
Thomas Merton
  
Some (persons) have become hermits with the thought that sanctity could only be attained by escape from other (persons). But the only justification for a life of deliberate solitude is the conviction that it will help you to love not only God but other (people). If you go into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils.
 
Man seeks unity because he is the image of the One God. Unity implies solitude, and hence the need to be physically alone. But unity and solitude are not metaphysical isolation. He who isolates himself in order to enjoy a kind of independence in his egotistic and external self does not find unity at all, for he disintegrates into a multiplicity  of conflicting passions and finally ends in confusion and total unreality. Solitude is not and can never be a narcissistic dialogue of the ego with itself. Such self-contemplation is a futile attempt to establish the finite self as infinite, to make it permanently independent of all other beings. And this is madness. Note, however that it is not a madness peculiar to solitaries --- it is much more common to those who try to assert their own unique excellence by dominating others. this is the more usual sin.
 
. . .True solitude is the home of the person, false solitude the refuge of the individualist. The person is constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love --- by a radical ability to care for all beings made by God and loved by Him. Such a capacity is destroyed by the loss of perspective. . . Go into the desert not to escape other (people) but in order to find them in God.
 
. . .There is no true solitude except interior solitude. And interior solitude is not possible for anyone who does not accept (her) right place in relation to other(s). There is no true peace possible for the (one) who still imagines that some accident of talent or grace or virtue segregates (her) from other(s)and places (her) above them. Solitude is not separation. God does not give us graces or talents or virtues for ourselves alone. We are members one of another and everything that is given to one member is given for the whole body. I do not wash my feet to make them more beautiful than my face.



[I write a lot here about the difference between solitude and isolation, eremitism and individualism, and these are a couple of the things I am asked about most frequently --- especially as folks discern the distinction between being a hermit and being a lone individual -- no matter how pious. Similar questions are posed on the idea of eremitical hiddenness and the distinction between that and anonymity and disengagement. Thomas Merton speaks to all of these ideas. He wrote about Solitude in Seeds of Contemplation but in New Seeds of Contemplation he wrote a new essay called "Solitude is not Separation". The differences between the two are striking; while complementary essays, they show such incredible shifts and development in his understanding and experience of eremitical solitude! The above post consists of excerpts from that second essay.]