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Posts Tagged ‘mystery’


Luke 8:4-15: Living as an Engaged Listener

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Vincent Van Gogh: The Sower

This familiar story has much to teach us not only about our capacity to instruct others but about the way we engage the mysteries of God’s kingdom.  Commentary tells us that this parable “can serve to encourage those who have looked at their failures and who have forgotten that some seed will yield abundantly.  What is important is to realize that this is a parable, and therefore is not a simple illustration of a point being made otherwise.  Rather, a parable is the message, and a message offered in such a way as to elicit listener involvement in its meaning.  With parables listeners bear heavy responsibility for what is heard and understood; quite often the message is not obvious nor available to casual, unengaged listeners . . . In the interpretation (8:11-15) the parable is made into an allegory, i.e., a story in which each item in the narrative is made to represent something else.  Most scholars agree this interpretation represents the situation of the early church in its missionary preaching to a variety of conditions.  As an ‘explanation’ of the parable, however, the interpretation is less than clear”.  (Mays, 939)

We always want answers to our questions in the same manner as we warn a meal in a microwave oven.  We hit a few buttons and we have our desired result.  Listening for and to God’s voice is not so swiftly done.  In order to hear the wisdom of scripture we must settle ourselves, read the words before us, and then grapple with the “less than clear” interpretation given to us.  As the commentary points out, even when we are active, engaged listeners we will not clearly discern the message we know is being placed before us.  And so we look for more clues.

In Matthew 13:18 Jesus seems to be saying that the word goes out to four kinds of hearers: those who will never accept the kingdom’s word, those believe for a little while and then lose heart and fall away, those believe but who are too anxious to act, and finally those who hear the word and produce fruit abundantly.  We see roles defined and demarcations made; the mystery becomes a bit more clear for us and we are less uncomfortable.  Yet we know there is more.  We understand that with this story – as with all stories that Jesus tells – we are given the opportunity to clear away some of the fog that always clutters our view when we are kingdom-seeking.  We are given the chance to examine our failures and successes without being judged.  Knowing that there is more to be found than these simple equivalents of soil and people, we return to Luke’s Gospel . . . we concentrate and read again.  We lean forward a bit as if to physically engage ourselves with these verses in order to wrestle more clarity from them . . . in order to dispel the fog that impedes our vision.  We pray as we read each verse.

Knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God has been granted to you . . . and we offer a quick prayer of thanksgiving for this story that shows us that although we work hard at conveying God’s message of love, we will not always succeed.   We marvel at this God who is so patient and willing to give each of us all the time we need to find our way to him.  Thus one of the mysteries of the kingdom is revealed.

But to the rest [the mysteries] are made known through parables so that ‘they may look but not see, and hear but not understand’ . . . and we offer a quick prayer of petition that stony hearts be softened and stiff necks unbent.  And we marvel at this God who is so merciful and loving that he waits endlessly for us to finally listen and hear . . . to finally see and understand.  And here is another mystery of the kingdom revealed.

The image of sowing and reaping was common in Jesus’ day and so the story of the sower was easily understood on a practical level.  What was challenging for Jesus’ listeners then – and what is just as challenging for us today – is to engage with the mysteries Jesus offers to us, to enter into the inscrutable ways of the kingdom, and to willing accept the heavy responsibility of living in this swirling fog of trust, fear, compassion, mystery . . . and love.   This is a message Jesus gives his kingdom-builders.  It is a message we are called to live.

Mays, James L., ed. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. 1203. Print.


We will be away from the Internet for several days. Please enjoy this reflection first posted on June 28, 2011.

Image from: https://gl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficheiro:The_Sower_-_painting_by_Van_Gogh.jpg

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Numbers 21:4-9: The Bronze Serpent

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives – Charles Le Brun: The Brazen Serpent

On this Tuesday before Palm Sunday, we spend time with the morning’s first liturgical reading, and today we explore a story we often hear during the Lenten season when we are called to make reparations.  In today’s Noontime, we see people who have tired of living a life of bare survival in the desert with only manna to eat.  They complain as they long for the milk and honey that Yahweh has promised.  Serpents appear and begin to bite them and so Moses intercedes. The Old Testament image of God is so different from the compassionate image in the New Testament; but today we examine the similarity between the disease and the cure.  The bronze serpent made by Moses heals those bitten by the living serpents. And so we ask . . .

Do we too often steer ourselves away from an obstacle when the cure lies in our willingness to enter God’s plan? Do we fear too much and trust too little? Are we as stiff-necked as the people we observe today? Do we complain too much? Do we ask too little? Do we understand God’s mystery, goodness and grace?

Adapted from a reflection written on August 15, 2007.

Visit the Worn Out reflection on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2011/12/03/worn-out/

Image from: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/the-brazen-serpent-188732  

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Matthew 9:35-38Epiphany – A Reprise

Saturday, January 6, 2018

James Tissot: The Magi Journeying

Today’s post is a reprise from January 6, 2012.

E-piph-an-y: A Christian festival, the manifestation of a deity, a sudden intuitive perception or insight, a piece of literature presenting a revelation.  These definitions define the holiday or the emotion, the state of being surprised by something we already know but have not yet acknowledged.  This word may also define our relationship with Christ.  Today we encounter Jesus in the midst of his work and this is what we find.

Jesus teaches.  Jesus proclaims the Good News that we are free to choose life over death.  Jesus heals. Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of the crowds.  All of this goodness is what God has in mind for us.  All of this kindness is what God has in store for us.  All of this love is what God intends for us.  And this is what the Magi come to honor and worship.

In our Western tradition we have come to know these three men as Melchior, a scholar from Babylon, the place of Israel’s exile about six centuries before Christ’s birth, Caspar, another scholar from Persia, the civilization that overran the Babylonians, and Balthazar, an Arab scholar.  These learned men bring gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold that serve as symbols for our own worship of the Son of Man.  Frankincense, aromatic incense, is brought to purify the Lord; myrrh, perfumed oil often used in embalming, is offered to anoint the Lord; and gold, the symbol of power, is presented to honor the Lord.  Some commentary suggests that the Magi bring forward these gifts for medicinal purposes; others propose that they are meant as tribute to this new kind of high priest, savior and king.  Still others say that these gifts stand in stark contrast to the sacrificial gifts of birds, lambs and oxen that the Jewish people proffered to God.  In any interpretation the story holds importance for us for these men have spent their lifetime studying the heavens and their search leads them to a small place in a small town where this small Jewish family shelters for a time.  Who is more surprised?  The Magi themselves?  Mary and Joseph?  The shepherds who tend their flocks and follow the Magi who follow the star?  Or are we perhaps the most surprised?

All of this is tradition as we have said earlier but we hold and cherish this belief in the story of the Magi for a purpose.  We love to hear the names read out rhythmically.  We want to listen to the details of this story again.  We want the mystery and surprise of this holy night to roll over us and wrap us in the warm and holy mystery of the Christ.  We want to be children for a little time again.

When I was small my Eastern European grandmother made doughnuts and inside them she had hidden shiny, bright coins.  Who would find the pennies, the dimes?  Who would be lucky enough to encounter the rare quarter?  Children understand how important it was to nibble the edges of the pastry carefully.  Children know the importance of joyful anticipation.  Children understand wonder and surprise. As adults we want the confirmation from these intelligent students of the heavens and stars.  As adults we want to be affirmed that the Good News we have heard is true.  As adults we want someone to stun us with a vivid and beautiful truth.  We want the verification that wonderful surprises lie ahead of us.  We want to see and hear and touch the reality of the Christ Child.

Velázquez: The Adoration of the Magi

On this Epiphany let us resolve to believe more and doubt less.  Let us decide to act on our beliefs and turn away from a cynical view of the world.  Let us announce to the world that we will love our enemies into goodness.  Let us bow in homage to the Christ child.  Let us lay at his feet the incense of our own suffering and the joy of our hearts.  Let us come and worship the Lord.  And let us allow ourselves to experience the surprise and enchantment of the Epiphany . . . just as God has intended.

For more on the identity of three Magi, visit: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+9%3A35-38&version=GNT;NRSV;CJB;MSG

For more on the gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, visit: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/ 

For another reflection on the Epiphany, go to the post for January 2, 2012: Reminders

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Judges 16Samson and Delilah

Peter Paul Reubens: Samson and Delilah

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

This is a familiar story to us – and when we open scripture to a comfortable place, we might look more closely, more intensely, to see if we are perhaps missing something because of the familiarity.

Samson was one of the series of Judges who protected and guided the Hebrew people before they asked for a king.  In this book we see the people of God continually repeat a cycle of dissent into separation from God . . . which causes loneliness and anguish followed by sorrow and repentance.  Yahweh always responds by forgiving and tending to his lost sheep.  There are periods of complacency and quiet when the people forget that God is central to their lives which separate the times of the judges whom God sends to lead the faithful.  Samson is one of the most famous.  We look at the following verses: 2 – And all the night they waited saying, “Tomorrow we plan to kill him”, verse 19 – Then she began to mistreat him, for his strength had left him, verse 28 – Samson cried out to the Lord and said,  “O Lord God, remember me!  Strengthen me, O God, this last time . . . let me die with the Philistines!”

Samson enters into a cycle familiar to all of us. He succumbs to Delilah and to the plot surrounding him.  He is human.  He fails.  He suffers.  He has hope.  He repents.  He makes reparation for his former action.  He is honored.  He brings the light of truth into the darkness of greed and corruption.  After closer reading, we see the cycle so familiar in our own lives. After closer reading, we do not understand the mystery of what happened more, but what we do understand is that no destruction or death can overcome the bright light of God’s goodness and mercy, and we are – we hope – a little more willing to see God’s goodness in our own lives..

From MAGNIFICAT today: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  (John 1:5God is mystery.  The maker of the universe dwells in light inaccessible, so bright that it blinds the probing eye, the questioning mind.

For those who are powerless, that they may experience your power employed on their behalf. 

For those who have abandoned hope, that they may know your mercy.

For those who fail to see you in mystery, that they may come to feel your gentle love.

Amen.

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 9.4 (2008). Print.  

Adapted from a Favorite written on April 9, 2008. 

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Salvador Dali: The Sacrament of the Last Supper

2 Corinthians 1:20-24: Everything is Holy Now

Saturday, June 17, 2017

“Once you learn to take your place inside the circle of praise and mutual deference, all meaningful distinctions between secular and sacred, natural and supernatural, fall away. In the Divine Economy, all is useable, even our mistakes and our sin. This message shouts from the cross, and we still did not hear it! Everything is holy now. And the only resistance to that divine flow of holiness and wholeness is human refusal to see, to enjoy, and to participate”. (Rohr and Morrell 189-190)

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident.

In Salvador Dali’s depiction of the Last Supper, we see the Trinity. The outstretched arms of the Father take in the holy newness of the meal; the good and faithful Son offers himself in the bread and wine; and the Holy Spirit nestles between Jesus’ right hand and cheek. We may need to enlarge and move the image in order to better see this small white dove. In the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. where this painting hangs, visitors are free to step forward and backward in order to bring the Spirit into focus, an exercise that reminds us that although we may not always feel a part of this mystery, it is nevertheless there. We also find that all twelve apostles are present, meaning that Judas Iscariot – who later betrays his friend with a kiss – is also present. Which figure is he? We have no way of knowing. Another mystery that Dali presents to us.

God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By the Spirit God has stamped us with God’s eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete.

“What it comes down to is that we are each a transmitter station, a relay station . . . Once I was able to move from pyramid thinking, by reason of the Trinity – ah! Then my mind let go of its own defenses and stopped refusing the universal dance”. (Rohr and Morrell 190)

We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.

“The love in you – which is the Spirit in you – always show says yes. Love is not something you do; love is someone you are. It is your True Self. Love is where you came from and love is where you’re going. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can attain. It is the presence of God with you, called the Holy Spirit”. (Rohr and Morrell 193)

Rohr, Morrell, and Dali tell us that everything belongs, and everything is holy, even our sins and failures. Rohr, Morrell, and Dali also remind us we are part of this sacred triad. We also kneel as Christ blesses us. We also are swept into the enormous arms of God. We have only to be open to this divine energy in the holy now.

When we compare varying translation of these verses from THE MESSAGE, we begin to sense the reality of God’s pledge that everything is holy. Tomorrow, Corpus Christi and uncreated grace.

Rohr, Richard with Mike Morrell. THE DIVINE DANCE: THE TRINITY AND YOUR TRANSFORMATION. New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2016. Print.  

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Matthew 2:1-12: Do Not Fear – Part XIV

Sunday, January 8, 2017

tissot-the-magi-in-the-house-of-herod-719x596x721

James Tissot: The Magi in the House of Herod

Matthew describes divergent reactions to the news that a new king has come to Judea. Scholars from the east spend time and finances looking for this new leader. King Herod and the city of Jerusalem show us a different response. What is our own reaction to this news?

Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

In the Day by Day meditation presented in today’s MAGNIFICAT, Fr. Alfred Delp has more words for us about the magi. They are the men with clear eyes that probe things to their very depths. They have a real hunger and thirst for knowledge. And we might ask . . . what is our own hunger? After what do we thirst?

Delp’s words mean more to us when we remember that he died in a Nazi concentration camp: I know what that means now. They are capable of arriving at right decisions. They subordinate their lives to the end in view and they willingly journey to the ends of the earth in quest of knowledge, following a star, a sign, obeying an inner voice that would never have made itself heard but for the hunger and the intense alertness that hunger produces. And we might ask ourselves . . . are we willing to subordinate our lives to such a quest? Are we willing to give up the familiarity of our fears to follow the star, the sign that Christ wants to move and act in us? Do we genuinely welcome the newness of the Christ child? Are we willing to accept this gift of Epiphany, this revelation, this surprise?

More from Delp: What are we looking for anyway? And where will we find genuine yearning so strong that neither fatigue, nor distance, nor fear of the unknown, nor loneliness, nor ridicule will deter us? And we might ask . . . are we willing to take on these questions each day as we rise, each Noontime as we pause, and each evening as we retire?

Herod responds to this mystery of knowledge, redemption and love with his familiar fears. He flies into a rage and lashes out at this child who represents something new. The magi, on the other hand, tell us how to take in the gift of this child who grows to be a man willing to sacrifice all in order to save us.

bhreligion-science-and-the-journey-of-the-magiThey rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

As we close this Christmastide, we reflect on our willingness to give our fears to the Christ who is able to turn harm into good. As we carry this season of joy into the new year, we consider our openness to the journey of life in Christ, the quest for a food that satisfies for eternity. And we consider our persistence in the pursuit of the star that will lead us to Christ and his surprising offer of eternal peace. This is an Epiphany worth celebrating.

For a homily on spirituality versus religion, and today’s feast as a journey of seeking – our quest for God, and God’s relentless quest for our hearts, click on the image of the Magi and the Holy Family. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Day by Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 8.1 (2017): 115-116. Print.  

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John 8:21-30: Dead End

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 dead end

Then [Jesus] went over the same ground again. “I’m leaving and you are going to look for me, but you’re missing God in this and are headed for a dead end. There is no way you can come with me.”

We are accustomed to hearing Jesus invite us to follow The Way with him and so today’s words might be disappointing. Yet when we look closely, we appreciate anew Jesus’ genuine candor, his gentle honesty.

God says: I know that the idea that Jesus leaves you and the Spirit comes to dwell in you might be difficult to grasp. I understand that the cosmos is as much a mystery to you as are the details of the human body and brain. I see that you have many questions: How can God be with us and everywhere at the same time? Why and how is God able to manipulate time and space? How do distant stars and tiny flowers all sprout from the same dust? Read my son’s words to you today and decide to let them sit with you. Re-visit them before you retire this evening. Allow the balm of my love to heal you, transform you, and bring you onto the path that has no dead end.

We wonder how we can avoid the dead end Jesus predicts for us.

Jesus said, “You’re tied down to the mundane; I’m in touch with what is beyond your horizons. You live in terms of what you see and touch. I’m living on other terms. I told you that you were missing God in all this. You’re at a dead end. If you won’t believe I am who I say I am, you’re at the dead end of sins. You’re missing God in your lives.”

The last verse in today’s reading might help us to better understand how the dead end we see before us becomes a beautiful openness to the possible: When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.

We determine to move from the dead end of our narrowness to the open way of Jesus as we remember this week’s Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “I will set all things right in God’s kingdom,” let us think instead, “I will strive each day to follow Jesus’ example of forgiveness, mercy and love”.

Tomorrow, the truth.

 

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John 7:40-53: Division

Saturday, March 12, 2016 IMM_Nicodemus_thumb

This week we have contemplated the tug-of-war between the beauty and gift of the mystery and miracle with which God surrounds us, and we have also seen the power of our unbelief and doubt. Before moving into the fifth week of Lent, we consider the authority this division exerts on us . . . and what counter-authority is present in our lives from which we might draw.

Those in the crowd who heard [Jesus’] words were saying, “This has to be the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Messiah!” But others were saying, “The Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does he? There was a split in the crowd over him. Some went so far as wanting to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him.

The police who were sent to arrest him say: Have you heard the way he talks? We’ve never heard anyone speak like this man.

Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus earlier and was both a leader and a Pharisee, spoke up. “Does our Law decide about a man’s guilt without first listening to him and finding out what he is doing?” But they cut him off. “Are you also campaigning for the Galilean? Examine the evidence. See if any prophet ever comes from Galilee.” Then they all went home.

Whom do we most closely resemble? Those in the crowd who believe? Are we the Pharisees who send for law enforcement or are we the police themselves? Might we be Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin? Or might we just go home with no more thought to what we witness? When we use the scripture link to read this entire story using different translations, we have the opportunity to find ourselves in these verses. To explore our own division or unity through the characters in this story, click on the names in the paragraph above.

We examine our belief, our doubt, and the many points of view we will hold and evangelize as we continue our Lenten practice. Rather than thinking: “God’s generosity is sometimes not fair,” let us think instead, “When we put away the past and follow God’s example of enormous generosity, we are better able to welcome the lost back home into the kingdom . . . and to give thanks for our own part in God’s great rejoicing”. 

Tomorrow, adultery.

 

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Job 19Suffering and Rejoicing Well

Eberhar Waechter: Grieving Job and his friends

Eberhar Waechter: Grieving Job and his friends

Thursday, November 26, 2015: Thanksgivng Day in the USA

As we consider terrorist events that flood before us, and as we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving in the USA, let us re-visit this Favorite post and consider how we might suffer and rejoice well.

The Book of Job is the first in the wisdom portion of scripture and it may be one of our favorites for its honesty and persistence with which this innocent man speaks.  Job has been wronged by Satan, yet retains faith and hope in God.  He asks the questions we all ask; he makes the observations we all make: why do the wicked seem to skate through life without suffering, and why do the innocent suffer?  Each of us has endured hardship as Job does at one time or another; and for this reason his words are so valuable.  Job sinks into the lowest of depths with his despair . . . yet he soars with great hope and divine love.  This is the gift of his story . . . that he both suffers and rejoices well.

How long will you vex my soul?  At times the suffering is too great, too heavy.

I cry for help; there is no redress.  In our own lives, and in the lives of others, there are moments that ask too much of human strength and endurance.

My brethren have withdrawn from me, and my friends are wholly estranged.  At times we are utterly alone, with no sheltering place, no healing balm.

All my intimate friends hold me in horror; those whom I love have turned against me!  In the human experience, there is no greater punishment than isolation.

Why do you hound me as though you were divine, and insatiably prey on me?  At times we are so low that we descend into pits we did not know existed . . . and this is when we know that something new is arriving.

But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust; whom I myself shall see: my own eyes, not another’s shall behold him.  Job understands that it is impossible for us to comprehend the depth, the width, the height or the timelessness of God.  Job – although not content with the mystery of his innocent suffering – accepts that from where he stands he cannot see or know the limitlessness of God or the complexity of his plan.  Job reminds us that each of us suffers.  Each of us stands accused at times when we are innocent.  Since this is so . . . the rest of his story is also true . . . we will be vindicated.

From today’s MAGNIFICAT Meditation about the Blessed Mother and her willingness to suffer as an innocent for the good of God’s economy: She neither regretted the past nor wished for the future – she accepted wholeheartedly the magnificent present.  She had found one beautiful pearl, and all she had she gave in order to buy it.  (Mother Marie des Douleurs)

So let us follow the example of Job and the example of Mary.  They understood that they, by entering into the mystery of suffering, were sharing in a sacred gift offered by the God who loves us so much . . . that he offers us his own divinity.

Let us enter into today without looking back in anger or looking forward in despair.

Let us gather all that we have and all that we are to make this one purchase . . . the gift of transformative union where . . . through suffering, we enter into the world of God’s joy.

A favorite from March 25, 2009. 

Cameron, Peter John. “Meditation of the Day.” MAGNIFICAT. 25.3 (2009). Print.  

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