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Judges 1: Cycles of Love

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: The Women of Amphissa

We know that Judges is the book in the Old Testament that takes us from the time following the death of Joshua through several hundred years of leaders, or judges, who include Gideon, Deborah and Samson, to the time of Jesse, father of David.  It delineates the story of a people struggling to understand themselves and one another, a people who constantly cycle through a loop of straying, repenting, returning, and forgetting.  The last verse of the book speaks about the attitude of the people regarding not only their civic relationship with one another, but also their spiritual relationship with God.  In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.  We reflected on this idea several days ago, saying that this is a sentiment we might apply to our contemporary times as we watch events unfold over which we have little and no control. It seems that in all ages we humans . . . do what we think best.  We also see God’s reaction to human waywardness: God allows the weeds to grow up with the wheat.

A number of years ago I came across a painting in the National Gallery’s Pompeii exhibit. It showed maenads, those who stir themselves to frenzy with wine and orgy, and who sink so low that they tear apart their own children.  They are the famous Bacchae of Dionysus, the distraught female followers of this god of wine who exacts revenge on any woman who will not submit to his will.  This Dionysus is the antithesis of the God of Israel.  This pagan god takes what he wants for his own satisfaction, and his followers are too exhausted to see the truth of his and their existence.

We are constantly faced with a choice in our lives because God grants us the freedom to follow or to strike out on our own, to enact love or to deaden our senses with the wine of self-pleasure and self-gratification.

The painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadea entitled The Women of Amphissa shows the exhausted maenads as they awaken the morning after a night of mad running through the hillsides in rapacious, orgiastic delight.  We can see their numbness to the light and to life.  The local townswomen protect them and arrange for them to be returned home unharmed; but the damage has already been done, and they remain powerless, forever in the grip of Dionysus.  They cannot escape from his cruel delight in watching them destroy others.  They have no God who loves them enough to sacrifice himself in redemption of their souls.  There is no Christ who refuses to leave his faithful to do what they think best.

Our God . . . the God of Israel . . . the one God of all of us here is not a God who holds us bound by the secrets or the dark debauchery that surround us.  Our God does not destroy with threats, but rather calls us to grow amid the weeds through faith in God’s own hope and love.  Ours is the God who forgives many times and constantly.  Our God welcomes those who witness and turn to goodness.  Our God does not chain us, does not bind us, does not force us into relationships, and does not take revenge.  Our God brings light, and truth and redemption.  And this God asks us to behave in like manner.  God sets us free to search for God’s goodness with our whole heart and our whole soul, to love or to turn away.  Our God is always hoping that when we do what we think best, we will respond in joyful hope to the call of light and truth and authentic, unencumbered love.

Adapted from a reflection written at the close of 2008. 

For more on the Bacchae, Dionysus and the playwirght Euripides, visit : http://www.mythography.com/myth/glimpse-of-a-greek-god-dionysus-in-the-bacchae-of-euripides/

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Isaiah 13:11-22The Desolation of Babylon

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Ruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Ruins of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

These are dreadful words and even more dreadful images yet the message is an important one.  We might do well to remember that the dreaded Babylonians who swept down from the north were later swept away by the Assyrians, who were taken over by the Persians, who were displaced by the Romans.  This is the message of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the story of Daniel.  A series of invaders will take political control over the land of the faithful . . . and the faithful must persevere despite the outward appearance that God is not among them.

We must remind ourselves as Resurrection people that God walks among us, lives among us, suffers with us and loves with us.  The outward appearance of loss and destruction cannot matter.  What appears to be desolation is in truth a path to restoration.

If we are truly a resurrection people, we must remember this.

We will want to read other versions of these verses as we consider this Old Testament God who appears to send destruction and ruin to those who have wandered too far from the shepherd’s loving care. As resurrection people . . .  How do we reconcile these verses with words from the prophet Hosea? Do these words reflect the kingdom Jesus describes and enacts? And what kind of response do these reflections engender in us? 

A Favorite from April 6, 2008. Click on the image above to learn more about the ruins of Babylon, or visit: http://www.biblebasics.co.uk/arch/arch12.htm

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Saturday, February 7, 2015roots and branches

Malachi 4 (Malachi 3:19-24)

Roots and Branches

Destruction is a familiar theme in the Old Testament; restoration is a theme in the New.  We seem always to be looking for the phoenix life – one in which our past is obliterated when we rise from the ashes of our former selves.  In today’s Noontime the wicked will be like ashes under the feet of the righteous.  This place which Malachi describes does not appear to offer resurrection; evidently there are actions from which there is no turning back.  The New Testament Jesus calls all of us – even those who seem to be lost in total perdition.  In today’s reading we hear that neither root nor branch will survive the coming fire.  There will be no source of renewal and no bearing of fruit for some.  We might wonder who these wicked are . . . and why they deserve this end.

This prophecy was written after the restoration and re-dedication of the Temple by Ezra and Nehemiah.  Evidently the people had not learned much from their suffering in exile.  These people sound a good deal like us.   “Unlike such early prophecies as Amos and Hosea, the late prophetic book of Malachi is not simply the voice of the observant masses against a corrupt priesthood, though it readily indicts the priesthood for its failures.  It identifies itself with Levitical priestly circles and believes deeply in the temple, true worship, and the payment of tithes as means for obtaining the blessing of the land”.  (Mays 1428-1429)  Malachi saw the corruption and witnessed truth to the power structure.  Clearly, he was ignored.  The Temple fell to final ruin in the Roman-Jewish conflict around the year 70 C.E.  We might wonder how history would have resulted differently if the temple hierarchy had acted positively in response to this prophecy.  We might wonder if we are like the temple priests whom Malachi describes to us today.

tree_vision1Psalm 119, sometimes entitled The Glories of God’s Law, is a long one but we cannot let it discourage us from exploring its verses.  One weekend several years ago I used it for a self-imposed three-day retreat on my porch at home.  Every few hours I went to the corner settee to sit awhile and look at the beauty of nature before me, and then I read and reflected on a portion of this Psalm.  I interspersed this with yoga, reflective music, and reading Thomas Merton, Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, and Henri Nouwen.  By the end of the weekend, after immersing myself in God’s Law, I had come to better understand an obstacle in my path.  By the end of that weekend I had learned how to rise from ashes so that I might not be trampled underfoot.  By the end of the weekend I had learned again how to put down roots . . . and how to lift up branches in order to bear fruit out of suffering.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1428-1429. Print.

Adapted from a Favorite written on May 9, 2011.  

For more reflections on this prophecy, enter the word Malachi in the blog search bar and explore. 

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Auguste Forbin: View of Jerusalem from the Valley of Jehoshaphat

Auguste Forbin: View of Jerusalem from the Valley of Jehoshaphat

Sunday

January 11, 2015

Joy and Joel

Scourge

The prophets chronicle a people’s yearning for union with their creator and un uncanny understanding of their own vulnerabilities. Their words warn, threaten, exhort, and promise us that God is always present, even though we may not recognize this presence. The Old Testament prophecies foreshadow the good news of the New Testament, and they remind us that no matter our circumstance God’s joy rescues us from sure destruction, Christ’s joy redeems us from our recklessness, and the Spirit’s joy heals us despite the gravity of our wounds.  Today Joel shows us an image of ourselves that we want to forget as we await indictment for our actions. Joel also shows us am image we will want to remember; God invites all of us to stand among the elect.

In about the year 400 B.C.E. “a terrible invasion of locusts ravaged Judah. So frightful was the scourge that the prophet visualized it as a symbol of the coming day of the Lord . . . The concluding poem pictures the nations gathered in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where the Lord is about to pass judgment. Israel’s enemies are summoned to hear the indictment; their evil deeds are at last requited. The tumultuous throng assembled in the valley of decision is made up of the enemies of God and they face inevitable destruction. The oracle changes abruptly from the terrifying image of judgment to a vision of Israel restored and forever secure from her enemies. God is both the vindicator of his people and the source of their blessing”. (Senior 1121)

joyNot only has sustenance been cut off from the people, but joy in living as well. If we have never found ourselves in our own valley of impending destruction, it is likely that we know and love someone who has. Joel’s prophecy brings us to the understanding that even in our fear of looming indictment, God always provides a road to repentance, transformation and restoration.

Joel 1:16: Has not food been cut off before our eyes, gladness and joy from the house of our God?

As we consider the valley of Jehoshaphat with its tumultuous crowd of those awaiting indictment for having caused the great scourge, let us also consider how God also offers us the opportunity to heal ourselves and the broken world we have fashioned from God’s creation. Let us remember that Jesus includes even the outsider Gentiles in the elect. And let us open our own minds and hearts to the understanding that the Spirit converts the great scourge to healing joy as she calls all to unity in and through Christ.
To consider the concept of rewilding the world, read the transcript of an interview with George Monbiot or listen to the podcast at one of these links:

http://www.ted.com/talks/george_monbiot_for_more_wonder_rewild_the_world?language=en

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2015-01-02/environmental_outlook_george_monbiot_feral_rebroadcast

Delve into Monbiot’s thinking and science as described in his book: Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life, and consider the joy of God’s creation.

FeralVisit Monbiot’s site at: http://www.monbiot.com/

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.1121. Print.

If this week’s Noontimes call you to search for more ways to encounter Joy or urges you to investigate the New Testament, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter those words in the blog search bar. You may want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com

For more information about anxiety and joy, visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Jeremiah 23:1-4

promisesThe Messiah Promise

We become so occupied with news of the day and the obstacles we see in our lives that we struggle to find a half hour to be still with God. Sometimes we look for little pockets of silence in the tumult of schedules and appointments. When we arrive at the end of our day, we may sleep more easily if we set time aside to commune with the Lord. The book of Jeremiah still lies open before us. If we turn to Chapter 23 we see the gift of promise almost hidden in this prophecy of doom; we find hope in the darkest of places. Destructive pastors and restorative pastors. Which are we?

Each of us is called as “pastors over God’s sheep that they shall feed them,” and to the extent that we are able, we hope to shepherd those placed in our care with integrity, authenticity, truth, wisdom, fidelity, mercy and compassion. As much as we are able, we are likewise called to bring comfort to the troubled stranger, to offer peace to the enemy, to bring God’s presence everywhere we go and to all whom we meet.

In this way, may we all move toward forward in restoration in Christ. In this way . . . we become an integral part of the Messiah promise.

Enter the word promise into the blog search bar and explore ways in which we might bring hope to our troubled world.

Adapted from a reflection written on May 4, 2007.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

During Schumacher's expedition, a rare seal was found with the inscription: "To Shema slave of Jeroboam". This may be King Jeroboam II from 750BC.

During Schumacher’s expedition, a rare seal was found with the inscription: “To Shema slave of Jeroboam”. This may be King Jeroboam II from 750BC.

Amos 4

Impiety Rebuked . . . Restoration

Amos does not mince his words or couch them in easy metaphors; we can see why he was rejected.  His message struck too quickly and too closely to the heart of those who by their actions did not live out the Mosaic Law of honoring the one true God.  Amos lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 B.C.E.) and he pronounced his prophecy at the cult center of Bethel until the priest who was in charge of that royal sanctuary expelled him.

At this time, the northern kingdom of Israel had separated from the southern one of Judea and when we read closely we can see that the priests and the wealthy had succumbed to the lure of the power and control which their office as sacred ministers and leaders afforded them.  Stated bluntly, they abused the gift and power given to them.  They were more concerned about maintaining their control on the temple income derived from the people who brought their offerings as a part of their attempt to seek penance and union with God.  The priests of Israel (the northern kingdom, also Samaria) had separated from Jerusalem (the southern seat of power and worship) and loved their position of wealth, plenty and power.  Amos rebukes these fat, contented people just as Jesus did when he ejected the moneychangers from the temple.

Amos always understands that this perversion of the law is not permanent . . . as much as those in power may wish it to be.  Amos knows that Yahweh will use this harm that the corrupt inflict on those over whom they have control . . . and he knows that Yahweh will turn this harm to good, just as he does with all things that are corrupting.  Yahweh will use these stubborn acts of blindness and perversity to bring about restoration and ultimate union with God.

As with all prophets, Amos is reluctant to speak when called by God . . . yet speak he does . . . and oh, so beautifully.  “His style is blunt and even offensive”.  (Senior RG 362)  He begins chapter 4 by calling the wealthy women cows, the wife of the priest, Amaziah, a harlot.  “He is a prophet in the mold of Elijah, whose denunciations come close to cursing”.   He saw himself as a poor shepherd and farmer with no influence and therefore saw no need to speak softly . . . as he did not expect to be heard.  Amos pronounces doom on those who do not hear and those who are blind to their own actions, and then he goes back to his sheep and sycamores.

Amos’ offer of hope springs not from the idea that this doom and catastrophe for the controlling classes can be avoided, for it is clear that disaster is looming and in fact it does arrive in the form of the Assyrian invasion.  No, the hope that Amos offers lies in the fallen hut of David, the Messiah who is to come . . . Jesus.   Amos tells and foretells those who have ears to listen that we rebuke those who live in flagrant violation of the covenant and then we watch in hopeful waiting for the one who will come to deliver the justice that is so desperately needed.  We wait in joyful expectation the kingdom where compassion and mercy merge with justice and righteousness, where we both rebuke and remain open to wonderful possibilities that can come only with tremendous hope.

Adapted from a reflection written on December 22, 2007.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.RG 362. Print.

To read more about Jeroboam II, click on the image above or go to: http://ramsesii-amaic.blogspot.com/2009/10/jeroboam-ii.html

For more on the Megiddo Seal above, go to: http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/megiddo.html

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Proverbs 5:4

Wormwood Growing in the Wild

Wormwood growing in the wild

Bitterness

In the end [the adulteress] is as bitter as wormwood, as sharp as a two-edged sword. 

Although we humans tend to focus on the physical violation of the commitment we avow to a life partner, there are many ways to commit adultery.  Straying from solid principles that support the authentic life, allowing ourselves to be lured into a way of life we know is false, and turning our backs on all that we know to be just and merciful.  These are all pathways that lead to the destruction of ourselves and possibly others.

God says: I am aware of the many sirens that call you away from me; I understand the strength of the pull the world has on your heart and mind.  It is for this reason that I am so joyful when even just one of you remains with me.  I am pleased when you put aside all that would make you bitter as you recover from stress and trauma.  I understand how difficult it is to forgive, how hard it is to pray from those who do you harm; yet this is what I ask of you.  This what I hope for you.  For this I have created you: to celebrate with me despite the sorrow and the grief.  All that I ask is that you give me your burden so that I might heal the injuries brought on by life and make you whole.  The double-edged sword has the power to wound just as it has the authority to save.  I dwell in you so that your double edge might lead to me and not to the darkness.  I dwell in you so that you with mercy and justice so that you might witness to my goodness.  I dwell in you so that you might rejoice in peace rather than sink in bitterness.  Come to me always . . . no matter your injuries.

Adultery is more than the physical breaking of the union of two who are committed to one another.  Adultery damages ourselves and many others.  Adultery is the first step  on the trail that leads to annihilation.  Adultery has the power to pull us into the darkness but it also has the power to transform us . . . when we bring our broken-ness to God.

Enter the name Gomer into the blog search bar to further explore the concept of adultery and God’s saving hand.

For more information on the wormwood plant and its properties, click on the image above or go to: http://www.absinthebuyersguide.com/wormwood.html or http://herbs-treatandtaste.blogspot.com/2011/06/wormwood-herb-health-benefits-and-uses.html

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tornado[1]Friday, May 24, 2013

Matthew 24

Calamities – Part II

When calamity strikes . . . what do we do?  How do we behave?  Where do we go?  To whom do we turn?

This chapter contains the last of Jesus’ speeches in Matthew and as we read we can feel the Messiah’s urgency to gather in his sheep before the coming storm.   From a MAGNIFICAT essay by Peter John Cameron, O.P. when he quotes Aquinas, “Goodness is diffusive of itself” (Summa Theologiae).  He goes on to describe God: When something is truly good, it cannot remain self-contained.  It wants to go out of itself, share itself . . . Goodness implies a self-gift.  And this is why intercessory prayer is the mark of a good and holy person.  This is how we share divinity with Jesus, by cautioning, warning, advising, seeking, and asking . . . just as the Shepherd does with his sheep.

What do we do when calamity strikes . . . ?

Disciples will behave as Jesus does in Matthew 24.

The faithful will call constantly to one another and they will gather to intercede for those who have strayed from The Way.

This giving of self rather than preservation of self can create great difficulty and calamity for ourselves and others, but it is the work we are asked to do.

We are called to be persistent, to persevere, to endure, to walk through the fire.

Yesterday’s MAGNIFICAT MEDITATION is written by Sr. Jean-Marie Howe, O.C.S.O. who cites Simone Weil: There is no fire in a cooked dish, but one knows it has been on a fire.  On the other hand, even though one may think to have seen the flames under them, if the potatoes are raw it is certain they have not been on the fire.  It is not by the way a man talks about God, but by the way he talks about the things of the world that best shows whether his soul has passed through the fire of the love of God. 

We can hear the urgency in Christ’s voice and that urgency is this:  He knows that destruction, calamities and great tribulation are upon the world . . . and he does not want to lose even one of his lambs.  That is why he has chosen us as disciples and our work is this: to go out and bring into the feast those on the highways, to be fishers of men and women, to distribute the fish and loaves and then to gather up the baskets of crumbs.  And as these disciples we will walk through the fire of this world, and we will suffer in ways we had not thought possible.  Yet beyond the flames, there is always the goal: the sanctuary of Christ with open arms, calling the sheep to the fold . . . the sanctuary against all calamity.

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 12 and 13.5 (2008). Print.  

Adapted from the May 13, 2008 Noontime.

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Tornado in Oklahoma, USA

Tornado in Oklahoma, USA

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Matthew 24

Calamities – Part I

Chapter 24 of Matthew is full of images and predictions from Jesus himself, the prophet, priest, son, Messiah.  The Destruction, Calamities and Great Tribulation are followed by the Coming of the Son of Man predicted by the prophet Daniel centuries before.  The footnotes are longer than the text in the New American Bible and if you ever have time to sit with this chapter, you will find many gems to collect and carry with you for remembrance.  Here are a few of these treasures.  Try to find time today to sit with them.

  •  Vigilant waiting does not mean the cessation of daily work to wait in stillness for the restoration and healing; rather, it is the faithful continuing of our daily routine with an awareness that Christ can and does come at any moment to cure, to heal, and to free us.
  • Disciples must always be ready for the coming of the Teacher; and it is this awareness of the disciples which will be their measure.
  • The faithful need not ask for signs, but the one we might mark will be that of Jonah (see Matthew tells us in 12:39-40) . . . restoration after living in the belly of the beast for three days.
  • Faithful completion of an assigned duty is paramount among disciples.

When we meet calamity, rather than see the destruction around us as a sign of God’s abandonment . . . we must consider how closely God always abides with those who suffer.

When we find ourselves against insurmountable barriers, rather than despair that all is lost . . . we must consider that with God all gain is loss and all loss is gain.

When we struggle with the difficulties of discipleship, rather than consider that the work is too hard . . . we must consider that we are privileged to serve one who rides out calamities with compassion and justice, one who restores and heals and transforms.

Tomorrow, Jesus’ words to us . . . his disciples . . . when we meet calamities . . .

 Adapted from the May 13, 2008 Noontime.

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