Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The need to remember

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“[Judas Maccabeus] then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought.” 2 Maccabees 12:43-45

On Monday morning, I offered a votive requiem Mass for those who lost their lives in military service for our country. Reflecting on that throughout the day, I kept coming back to the idea of a day of remembrance, a day of prayer for the departed, and of how far we have come from that practice as a culture and even in the church.

How often have you sent a card to someone who recently had a death in the family and you write something in it like: "My thoughts and prayers will be with you in this difficult time." I have done so myself many times. There is nothing wrong with the statement or the sentiment, but it does leave something out. What about the person who died? Why are we not praying for them? I think a reluctance to do so came first from the evangelical Protestant culture which sees prayer for the dead as verboten. Then the secularization of that culture saw prayer (or anything else) for the dead as simply pointless. As the second book of the Maccabees points out, if we were not expecting them to rise from the dead, it truly would be a useless and foolish thing, but if we are look toward their resurrection, it is a holy and pious thought to offer prayer for the departed.

I think we should be intentional about remembering our departed friends and family in prayer. Many of the beautiful prayers from the burial office in the Prayer Book came about in response to the great loss (and the resulting need for prayers) that was experienced after the Great War (WWI). For those who showed the greatest love--to lay down one's life for their friends--in battle, I offer the following prayer from the Prayer Book, trusting in Christ's resurrection that it is a holy and pious thought:

Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend thy servants, our dear brothers and sisters who have fallen in battle, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and most merciful Savior, beseeching thee that they may be precious in thy sight. Wash them, we pray thee, in the blood of that immaculate Lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the world; that, whatsoever defilements they may have contracted in the midst of this earthly life being purged and done away, they may be presented pure and without spot before thee; through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. Amen.

You can find a beautiful slideshow of military cemeteries and war memorials here. It is worth a look.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Big weekend

It was a big weekend at St. Alban's. On Saturday, our school graduated its largest senior class to date.
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Below is the senior class gift to the school--a trophey case designed and built by St. Alban's own Alex Mills.
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On Sunday, 47 people packed the conference room for the first of four sessions discussing the Da Vinci Code.
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Last, but not least, we continued the recent tradition of releasing balloons with prayers written on them after church on the Sunday after the Ascension.
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Friday, May 26, 2006

A prayer for married couples

Yesterday, Melisa and I celebrated four years of marriage. I am so thankful to God for my helpmate and so thankful to her for just being who she is and welcoming me into her life as a husband.

I thought I might share a prayer from a prayer card given to the young clergy of the diocese by Fr. Bill Belury. The prayer itself was written by Bishop Slattery, which he used every day at family devotions in his home in Boston.

O God, our heavenly Father, protect and bless us. Deepen and strengthen our love for each other day by day. Grant that by thy mercy, neither of us may ever say one unkind word to the other. Forgive and correct our faults, and make us constantly to forgive one another should one of us unconsciously hurt the other. Make us and keep us sound and well in body, alert in mind, tender in heart, and devout in spirit. O Lord, grant us each to rise to the other's best. Then, we pray thee, add to our common life such virtues as only thou canst give. And so, O Father, consecrate our life and love completely to thy worship, and to the service of all about us, especially those whom thou hast appointed us to serve, that we may always stand before thee in happiness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Ascension of our Lord

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The Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heavenly glory has always been, and will forever remain, a holy mystery of the Catholic faith. It is a celebration of great antiquity, and in the Episcopal Church, it is one of only seven holy days designated as a "Principle Feast." In the Eastern Church this feast was known as the analepsis, "the taking up," and also as the episozomene, "the salvation," denoting that by ascending into his glory, Christ completed the work of our redemption. The term used in the West, ascension, signifies that unlike Enoch, Elijah, and Mary, Christ was raised up by his own powers.

In Medieval times, there was an English custom of carrying a large banner at the head of the procession, which depicted a lion at the top and a dragon at the bottom, symbolizing the triumph of Christ in his ascension over the evil one. In some churches the scene of the Ascension was even vividly reenacted by elevating the figure of Christ above the altar through an opening in the roof of the church. In others, the figure of Christ was made to ascend, and that of the devil was made to descend. But in every celebration—all of which are an attempt to enter more deeply and contemplatively into the solemn mystery of our redemption—the liturgies celebrate the completion of the work of our salvation, the pledge of our glorification with Christ, and his triumphant entry into heaven with our glorified human nature .

For forty days, the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, showing them his that he is now alive, proving the reality of his new existence, and speaking of the kingdom and teaching them God’s truth. The Apostle Paul testified, in his first letter to the Corinthians, "I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

Tradition names Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left earth. It is from there that the Lord, the eternal Word of God, returned to the place from which he came—the right hand of the Father. But he does not return the same; he returns with a body. Since he entered heaven in our flesh, as if in our name, it follows that in a sense we already sit with God in the heavenly places in Christ. It is a visible sign of what God planned for us before the foundation of the world. In the Ascension, our humanity, our "flesh," has been "taken" by the Lord Jesus into the very heart of God.

This is profoundly good news. It means that we are more deeply valued, loved, and treasured by God than we may have known had Christ not departed for glory. We grow and change. We move from place to place. We endure disease and violence. We live with the sometimes painful rhythm of suffering and death. We make mistakes and we commit sins, knowingly and unknowingly. But through it all, we carry this vision of our humanity being taken up by Christ into God, caught up in an ultimate, renewed purpose for our lives.

It means that God loves, values, holds, and will transform our fragile and broken humanity in Christ. It means that, at the Ascension, Jesus took all of human life, which he cared for so deeply, and brought it "into the heavenly places." This includes the suffering refugee, the abused child or spouse, the victim of war or terror, the lonely one in the nursing home, the one who struggles with depression or a lost sense of worth and value, those who are sick, all who are in difficult transitions in life. Christ shows us all where we ultimately belong.

It is unthinkable that the appearances of Jesus should just continue indefinitely or that they should grow fewer and fewer until finally they petered out. That would have effectively wrecked the faith of men. There had to come a day of dividing when the Jesus of earth finally became the Christ of heaven, to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

To the disciples the ascension was obviously an ending in once sense. The days when their faith was put in someone whose physical presence was seen and heard in their midst were over. Now they were linked to someone who who had passed through the veil and was forever independent of space and time, triumphing above all creation. Jesus is their link from one to the other. So to the disciples, it was equally a beginning.

They did not leave the scene heart-broken; they left it with great joy, because now they knew that they had a Master from whom nothing could separate them any more. "I am sure," St Paul wrote to the Church of Rome, "that nothing—nothing in life or death—can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Further, the ascension gave the disciples the certainty that they had a friend, not only on earth, but also in heaven. This same fact highlights their new role as his mystical Body that remains on earth.

At the end of the ascension story in Acts the disciples receive a promise by two men in white robes that there will be a homecoming. This humanity that Jesus has "taken up" to the right hand of God returns to us in glory. We can take this to mean that while in Christ’s Ascension the world as we know it is constantly ending, and the world as God knows it is constantly coming.

Those early disciples were filled with joy, the same joyful expectation that grew within the blessed Virgin Mary she received the word from the angel. Perhap they understood for the first time the message that Jesus had spoken to them in difficult moments in the past—"It is better for you that I go," for "I go to prepare a place for you."

As instructed, those early disciples went back to Jerusalem and St Luke tells us they were continually in the Temple, praising God as they awaited the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit by holding the first novena—a nine-day vigil of prayer. They were preparing a place in their hearts for the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension of our Lord will always remain for us a cause of joy and celebration. It will also remain a holy mystery—both about our Lord and about ourselves. Our last view of the risen Christ remains fixed in our mind’s eye—solemn, stately, loving and dignified, his hands raised in blessing. It will remain a mystery for us, but not an intangible one. The mystery of the Ascension of our Lord is not an abstraction that challenges the imagination, but a reality presented to the soul, for all the glories of the risen Christ have ascended into the sacraments.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Ascensiontide novena to the Holy Ghost

A novena is a nine-day vigil of prayer, usually focused on a sing theme or petition. The first novena was recorded in Acts 1:4-5, 12, 14. Jesus, "while staying with [the disciples] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, 'you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.'" In response, "they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet . . . and all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers."

It has been customary to keep a novena for the coming of the Holy Spirit from Ascension to Pentecost, in imitation of this early church experience. I encourage you to give it a try if you have never done so before. The texts below may aid you in this endeavor.

Begin with this prayer each day:
O Holy Spirit, my Lord and my God, I adore thee and humbly acknowledge here in thy sacred presence that I am nothing, and can do nothing, without thy operation within me. Come, great Paraclete, thou Father of the poor, thou Comforter of the blest, fulfill the promise of our Saviour, who would not leave us orphans, and enter my mind and heart as thou didst descend on the day of Pentecost upon the holy Mother of Jesus and upon his first disciples. Grant that I may have a part in those gifts which thou didst so prodigally bestow upon them. Take from my heart all that is not pleasing to thee and make of it a worthy dwelling-place for Jesus.

Illumine my mind, that I may see and understand the things that are for my eternal welfare.

Inflame my heart with pure love of the Father, that, cleansed from attachment to all unworthy objects, my whole life may be hidden with Jesus in God.

Strengthen my will, that it may be conformable to the will of my Creator and guided by thy holy inspirations.

Aid me to practice the heavenly virtues of humility, poverty and obedience which are taught me in the earthly life of Jesus.

Descend upon me, O mighty Spirit, that, inspired and encouraged by thee, I may faithfully fulfill the duties of my state in life, carry my daily cross with patience and courage, and accomplish the Father's will for me more perfectly. Make me, day by day, more holy and give to me that heavenly peace which the world cannot give.

O Holy Spirit, thou Giver of every good and perfect gift, grant to me the intentions of this novena of prayer. May the Father's will be done in me and through me. And mayest thou, O mighty Spirit of the living God, be praised and glorified for ever and ever. Amen.

Veni Creator Spiritus
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire, thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart. Thy blessed unction from above, is comfort, life, and fire of love; enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight. Anoint and cheer our soiled face with the abundance of thy grace. Keep far our foes; give peace at home. Where thou art Guide no ill can come. Teach us to know the Father, Son, and thee, of both, to be but One; that, through the ages all along, this may be our endless song: praise to thine eternal merit, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Father . . .
Hail, Mary . . .

Then either the following prayer, or one of the prayers below:
O God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

First Day after the Ascension
Come, O Holy Ghost, the Lord and Life-giver; take up thy dwelling within my soul, and make of it thy sacred temple. Make me live by grace as an adopted son of God. Pervade all the energies of my soul, and create in me a fountain of living water springing up into life everlasting.

Second Day
Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, and power, and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Show me the way by which I may be able to attain to them, and possess them, and hold them hereafter, my own forever.

Third Day
ome, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten my mind, that I may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation, and may merit at last to see the eternal light in thy light; and in the light of glory to have the clear vision of thee and the Father and the Son.

Fourth Day
Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good, turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the path of thy commandments to the goal of eternal life.

Fifth Day
Come, O Spirit of Fortitude, and give courage to my soul. Make my heart strong in all trials and in all distress, pouring forth abundantly into it the gifts of strength, that I may be able to resist the attacks of the devil.

Sixth Day
Come, O Spirit of Knowledge, and make me understand and despise the emptiness and nothingness of the world. Give me grace to use the world only for thy glory and the salvation of thy creatures. May I always be very faithful in putting thy rewards before every earthly gift.

Seventh Day
Come, O Spirit of Piety, possess my heart; incline it to a true faith in thee, to a holy love of thee, my God, that with my whole soul I may seek thee, and find thee my best, my truest joy.

Eighth Day
Come, O Spirit of holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; and shun all things that can offend thee so that I may be made worthy to appear before the pure eyes of thy divine Majesty in the heaven of heavens, where thou livest and reignest in the unity of the ever-blessed Trinity, world without end.

Vigil of Pentecost
Come, O Holy Comforter, and grant me a relish for heavenly things. Produce in my soul the fruits of virtue, so that, being filled with all sweetness and joy in the pursuit of good, I may attain unto eternal blessedness.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Is that in the Bible?

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Look at the following phrases and terms. Which of them come from the Bible, and which do not? Some of them may surprise you.

1. "Feet of clay" (Not exactly)
2. "The Lord helps those who help themselves" (No)
3. "To the victor goes the spoils" (No)
4. "Can a leopard change his spots?" (Yes)
5. "Heart of gold" (No)
6. "Salt of the earth" (Yes)
7. "The blind leading the blind" (Yes)
8. "Adam and Eve eating the apple" (No)
9. "Money is the root of all evil" (No)
10. "Do unto others as you would have them
do unto you" (Not exactly)
11. "Pride goeth before a fall" (Not exaclty)
12. "Apple of one's eye" (Yes)
13. "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (Yes)
14. "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Yes)
15. "The patience of Job" (Yes)
16. "Lucifer," as Satan's name (Yes)
17. "God is love" (Yes)
18. "Pouring oil on troubled waters" (No)
19. "Straight and narrow" (Not exactly)
20. "Fire and brimstone" (Yes)
21. "Speaking with a forked tongue" (No)
22. "Robbing Peter to pay Paul" (No)
23. "Trinity" (Not exactly)
24. The concept that the Earth is flat (No)
25. "Rome wasn't built in a day" (No)
26. "No man is an island" (No)
27. "Milk and honey" (Yes)
28. "All that glitters is not gold" (No)
29. "Amazing grace" (No)
30. "How the mighty have fallen!" (Yes)
31. "God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform" (No)
32. "The handwriting on the wall" (Yes)
33. "Fly in the ointment" (Yes)
34. "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb" (No)
35. "The lamb will lie down with the lion" (Not exactly)
36. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" (No)

Ready to check your answers? If you highlight the text of the above litst, you'll see which ones come from the Bible and which do not. For more details about the origin and meaning of each, look here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Light of Christ

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I cannot believe I forgot to write a post about this back in Holy Week (I suppose I was a little busy). The Holy Fire of the Easter Vigil starts by itself every year in the tomb of Christ and pilgrims bathe their hands and faces in its flame. It is a true miracle? It certainly is fascinating, and celebrated throughout the Eastern Church but almost unknown in the West.

"On Holy Saturday believers gather in great crowds in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For on this day fire comes down from Heaven and puts fire on lamps in the Church." Thus one reads in one of the many Easter itineraries to the Holy Land. "The Miracle of the Holy Fire" by Christians from the Orthodox Churches is known as "The greatest of all Christian miracles." It takes place every single year, on the same time, in the same manner, and on the same spot. No other miracle is known to occur so regularly and for such an extensive period of time; one can read about it in sources as old as from the eighth Century AD. The miracle happens in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, to millions of believers the holiest place on earth. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre itself is an enigmatic place. Theologians, historians and archaeologists consider the church to contain both Golgatha, the little hill on which Jesus Christ was crucified, as well as the "new tomb" close to Golgatha that received his dead body, as one reads in the Gospels. It is on this same spot that Christians believe he rose from the dead. . . .

[The Patriarch reports] "From the core of the very stone on which Jesus lay an indefinable light pours forth. It usually has a blue tint, but the color may change and take many different hues. It cannot be described in human terms. The light rises out of the stone as mist may rise out of a lake it almost looks as if the stone is covered by a moist cloud, but it is light. This light each year behaves differently. Sometimes it covers just the stone, while other times it gives light to the whole sepulchre, so that people who stand outside the tomb and look into it will see it filled with light. The light does not burn I have never had my beard burnt in all the sixteen years I have been Patriarch in Jerusalem and have received the Holy Fire. The light is of a different consistency than normal fire that burns in an oil lamp. At a certain point the light rises and forms a column in which the fire is of a different nature, so that I am able to light my candles from it. When I thus have received the flame on my candles, I go out and give the fire first to the Armenian Patriarch and then to the Coptic. Hereafter I give the flame to all people present in the Church." . . .

As with any other miracle there are people who believe it is fraud and nothing but a masterpiece of Orthodox propaganda. They believe the Patriarch has a lighter inside of the tomb. These critics, however, are confronted with a number of problems. Matches and other means of ignition are recent inventions. Only a few hundred years ago lighting a fire was an undertaking that lasted much longer than the few minutes during which the Patriarch is inside the tomb. One then could perhaps say, he had an oil lamp burning inside, from which he kindled the candles, but the local authorities confirm to have checked the tomb and found no light inside it. The biggest arguments against a fraud, however, are not the testimonies of patriarchs. The biggest challenges confronting the critics are the thousands of independent testimonies by pilgrims whose candles were lit spontaneously in front of their eyes without any possible explanation.

Want to know more? Here is the rest of that excellent brief article on the phenomenon by Niels Christian Hvidt. You can find the Wikipedia article on the Holy Fire here. Also, here is page with a fascinating video of the event in which "a flaming ball of the Holy Light runs through and over peoples heads and lights up a faithful man’s candle." Also, check out the testimony of Jerusalem Patriarch Diodorus I here on the right sidebar of the Living Miracles website.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The real controversy

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The real controversy that is stirring people up about the new film version of The Da Vinci Code is the length of Tom Hanks' hair. After all, he's no Michael Landon.

For those interested in Da Vinci Code online resources, here is an excellent list. At St. Alban's, we are having a four-part study in Sunday School (May 28th and June 11th, 18th, and 25th) on separating fact from fiction in the novel and the movie. The discussion should be very interesting and good fun.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Consider the birds of the air

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This is a little fledgling we found yesterday in our backyard that my wife Melisa attended to. He is such a cute little thing. His parents are feeding him now, and he seems to be in good hands.

Matthew 6:25-34
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

A Spielberg moment?

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There are a few places in the gospels where we come across what I like to call "Steven Spielberg moments." That is, if it were in a film, there would be dazzling special effects. The obvious one is the transfiguration. But I would also put the "divine shock" of Mark 5:30 in that category ["At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, 'Who touched my clothes?'"].

In my Sunday School class, we speculated if we had come across another in John 18:6. The passage, which describes the arrest of Jesus, reads:

So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, "Whom do you seek?" They answered him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, "Whom do you seek?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: "Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one."

What exactly does it mean that "they drew back and fell to the ground" when Jesus spoke? Was it because they were so astonished? Was it because of some supernatural force? As one commentary noted, it calls to mind Psalm 9:3--"When my enemies are driven back, they will stumble and perish at your presence." It also calls to mind Revelation 19:5--"Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations." I confess it made me think of Yoda slamming Palpatine's imperial guards against the wall in Star Wars: Episode III.

The Amplified Bible says, "they (drew back, lurched backward) and fell to the ground." The Message translates it as, "The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback." Young's Literal Translation states, "they went away backward, and fell to the ground."

I'm still not sure what to make of the passage (If only the evangelists had written their own commentaries!). I think what can be said at least is that in John's way of telling the story there is a strong physical reaction by the guards that seems to be connected to Jesus identifying himself by means of invoking the divine Name ("I am."). I think the most insightful observation I found came from the Jerome Bible Commentary:

Jesus remains entirely in command of the situation. Knowing what is to happen, and he takes the initiative in addressing the armed force; Judas the betrayer stands by impotently. At Jesus' identification of himself ("I am he") the throng is thrown back in confusion; whatever the psychological explanation of the recoiling of Jesus' enemies from his calm presence, John interprets their action as an unconscious recognition of a divine appearance. Finally, Jesus protects his own from destruction, even as he promised he would (c.f. 6:39; 17:12).

Thomas and the gnostics

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His Beatitude +Mar Didymos and Her Eminence +Marta Theodora

The Gospel of Thomas is a non-canonical work (c. 50-100) which is not a narritve of Jesus' life and ministry, but a list of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. It's what might be characterized as the fortune cookie approach to gospel writing. Some of these sayings resemble those found in the four canonical gospels. Others were unknown until its discovery as a part of the Egyptian gnostic library at Nag Hammadi in 1945, and a few of these run counter to sayings found in the four canonical gospels. Gnosticism is a blend of paganism and Christianity, which is concerned with obtaining illumination (gnosis) and hidden truths rather than redemption and holiness. For gnostics, Jesus is "Savior" only in the sense of being a spirit guide who can help us save ourselves from unenlightened ignorance.

Here are some random excerpts:

14. Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits."

19. Jesus said, "Congratulations to the one who came into being before coming into being."

30. Jesus said, "Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one."

33. Jesus said, "What you will hear in your ear, in the other ear proclaim from your rooftops. After all, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, nor does one put it in a hidden place. Rather, one puts it on a lampstand so that all who come and go will see its light."

37. His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?" Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid."

Thomas and his "gospel" have had a fascination in gnostic circles as a druid-like guide to spiritual illumination. There is a Tomasine Church composed of some house congregations, mostly in Pennsylvania. The Apostle Thomas ("the Twin") is seen as the spiritual counterpart and intimate confidant of Jesus. Their website gives this explanation of their roots:

"The Gospel of Thomas has been hailed as the oldest surviving Christian text by many modern day scholars. Scholars believe it was likely written down for the first time between 50 and 60 CE. They have found that the Gospel of Thomas formed the bases for which the narrative synoptic gospels were based. The complete codex of thomasine texts are therefore like windows in time, enabling us to peer back to the primitive Christian tradition and the direct and unfiltered teachings of Jesus. These texts deliver a doctrine dramatically different from that found in the authorized Christian canons.

During one of his night time meditations, +Mar Didymos attained what hesychasts call a state of Illumination or Theoria. The next day he went to teach his students. One of them saw a physical illumination around him. When questioned by his students as to what that light was, he told them to not concern themselves with such things and to begin their normal studies.

It was after his Illumination that +Mar Didymos had begun to acquire an international student base. These students in turn, told others what they were learning and they began to form into local study groups. This church was to be based upon primitive Christianities’ teachings as found within the Gospel of Thomas exclusively. Thus was the (re)formation of the Thomasine Church."

The Thomasine Church creed is as follows:
"I seek the illumination of the Light of Truth. I seek reintegration with the Living Father, the Ruler of Rulers, the Silence and the Deep. I seek the annointing of the Mother, the Holy and Comforting Spirit, who is the front of all wisdom, to guide me to find that which internal, invisible, universal and secret. I seek the knowledge of the Master, the Living Jesus, upon whom the annointing of Truth, Light and Life was given. I seek to remove the veil of the Wicked Ones, so that I may obtain true understanding and attain liberation. Amen

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Pastor Reverend in Jesus Christ's Name,

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I don't know if this will interest anyone. I imagine that few people are keen to read someone else's spam. But I've always been curious if other professions receive similar specialized email solicitations. Any clergy with their email addresses out on church websites will regularly receive bunk messages, often from Nigeria and not always in good English, about someone with a vast estate who died with no beneficiary. They are looking for a charity to give it to, or someone to help move it out of the country. All you have to do if give them your bank account number, social security number, etc. Here are two examples:

Dear Beloved In The Lord,
From: Mrs Rose Martins Toyo

Praise be to the name of God most high. I am Mrs. Rose Martins Toyo from Tunisia, married to Dr. Martins Toyo who served as an archdeacon in the St. Micheal's archdeaconry in Ivory Coast for 14 years ,before he died in the year 2003. We were married for 33 years without any child.

My husband died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death we were both Christians and since his death I decided not to re-marry. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of USD5,500,000.00 (Five Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) in cash,packaged in bundles into a metalic box. Recently, my Doctor told me that I would not last for the next Six months due to my cancer illness.

Having known my condition and believing the doctor I have decided to donate this fund to avoid total loss to church, Less privilege, or better still a Christian individual that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein. I am interested in helping orphanages ,widows and propagating the Gospel and to ensure that the house of God is maintained. Please do not fail to spread the funds across the globe.

The Bible made us to understand that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I took this decision because I don't have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are fighting over the properties and I don't want my husband's hard earned money to be misused by their greedy attitude. I don't want a situation where this money will be used in an UNGODLY manner, hence the reason for taking this bold decision.

I am not afraid of death since I am a good christian. I know that I am going to be in the bosom of the Lord. The bible says that the lord will fight my case and I shall hold my peace. I don't need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health, and because of the presence of my husband's relatives around me always. I don't want them to know about this development. With God all things are possible. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact information of the lawyer in charge of taking care of negotiations on this and other details that will enable you claim the box from the security company .

The lawyer will issue you a letter of authority/Power of Attorney that will make you the beneficiary of this fund. I want you to always pray for me because the lord is my shepherd. My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Christian. Whoever that wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and truth. Please always be prayerful all through your life.

I sent you this mail under severe pains. Any delay in your reply will be detrimental. Please assure me that you will act accordingly. Remain blessed in the name of the Lord.

Yours in Christ,
Mrs. Rose Martins Toyo.


St. Peter's Catholic Church
140 Pewits Street
Woolwich London
Se18 6JL

ATTN: Revd. Timothy Matkin
91 South Davis Drive
Arlington, TX 7613-2420

Notification of Bequest
On behalf of the trutees and executor of the willed portion of late Engr Williams Mckee. I once again try to notify you as my earlier letter to you through the post office was returned undelivered. I hereby attempt to reach you via your e-mail address. I wish to notify you that late Engr. Williams Mckee made you a beneficiary to his will. He left the sum of Seven undred and Fifty Thousand Pounds (UKP £750,000.00) to you in the codicil and last testament to his will.

Being a widely traveled man, he must have been in contact with you in the past or simply you were nominated to him by one of his numerous friends abroad who wished you good. Engr. Williams Mckee. until his death was the general Director and pioneer staff of Cocacola Company of London. He was a very dedicated Christian who loved to give out. His great hilanthropy earned him numerous a wards during his life time. Late Engr. Williams Mckee. died on the 26th day of may 1990 at the age of 72 years, and his will is now ready for execution. According to him this money is to support your Christian activities and to help the poor and the needy, which was his last instructions to his attorney, Barrister Richard Moore.

Please If I reach you as I am hopeful, endeavour to get back to me as soon as possible to enable the immediate execution of your portion of the equest to enable earlier disbursment by the Paying Bank. You should forward along your personal Telephone and personal Fax numbers, including a proof to confirm your identity as the eneficiary in question and your current mailing address if different from the above. Proof of Identity should be either clergy ID or International passport or drivers License. Send achine copy or dentity proof by attachment.You are to send to him or me a copy of your driving licence, clergy ID or passport to him either by attachment via email by attachment or you demand I would send you the Obituary notice of Late Engr Williams Mckee. for your perusal and maybe you would recognise him.

I hope to hear from you in no distant time.

Yours in His service
Fr. John Goddard
Parish Priest

I keep trying to help, but these money transfers always seem to work in reverse.

Preparation for Holy Communion

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In the 1600s, manuals for practical Christian living and deepening the worship experience became very popular in the Anglican Church. One example is Bishop Jeremy Taylor's Holy Living. Section X of the book is devoted to continual "preparation to the Holy Sacrament," the celebration of which "is the great mysteriousness of the Christian Religion." Holy Living had a lasting impact on churchmen of the day. Both Wesley and Keble acknowledged its influence on them. Here is Archbishop Henry McAdoo's sumary of the chapter.

At the heart of the eucharistic mystery is the unique high priesthood of Jesus, who “sits perpetually, re-presenting to the Father that great effective sacrifice” which in our manner and proportion we proclaim “by sacramental re-presentation . . . and offer to God and re-present in this solemn prayer and sacrament, Christ as already offered.” Thus receiving Christ we offer ourselves, our obedience, and thanksgiving to the Father and so priest and people "are sacrificers too in their manner." What we are caught up in then, says Taylor, is a mystery begun on earth continuing in heaven and ever echo­ing back in human lives and this is what happens at Holy Communion, for the Eucharist "is the sum of the greatest mystery of our religion; it is the copy of the passion, and the ministration of the great mystery of our redemption."

Immediately the mystery evokes echoes and responses of practicality--repentance, purpose of amendment, self-exam­ination, devotion: "It is not the preparation of two or three days that can render a person capable of this banquet: for in this feast, all Christ, and Christ's passion and all his graces, the blessings and effects of his sufferings, are conveyed." Sins and habits of sins must be confronted and spiritual counsel sought when needed: "To make all this good to thee, there is nothing necessary on thy part but a holy life, and a true belief of all the sayings of Christ; amongst which, indefinitely assent to the words of institution, and believe that Christ, in the holy sacrament, gives thee his body and his blood. He that believes not this is not a Christian."

All this "inquisition into his life" is the indispensable preparation but Taylor thinks preparatory devotion and "setting apart . . . time . . . beforehand" is also necessary: "we are to make our souls more adorned and trimmed up with circumstances of pious actions and special devotions . . . (for) . . . this is thy soul's day, a day of traffic and intercourse with heaven."

Then he turns back again from the practical to the mystery: "These holy mysteries are offered to our senses, but not to be placed under our feet; they are sensible but not common." At the eucharist we are beholding a mystery, "that the Son of God should become food to the souls of his servants" and by grace we participate in the mystery that "He should bring thee to life . . . and make thee partaker of the Divine nature."

The elements are "not common bread and wine, but holy in their use, holy in their signification, holy in their change, and holy in their effect . . . dispute not concerning the secret of the mystery, and the nicety of the manner, of Christ's presence; it is sufficient to thee that Christ shall be present to thy soul as an instrument of grace." And at once the mystery overflows into the moral and the practical and the Monday morning of duties and relationships appears: "Remember, that now Christ is all one with you; and, therefore, when you are to do an action consider how Christ did, or would do the like; and do you imitate his example, and transcribe his copy, and understand all his commandments, and choose all that he propounded . . . for then you do every day communicate." As one reads Holy Living, one recalls Sir Edmund Gosse's com­ment in respect of The Great Exemplar and one agrees that Taylor's was "the most gracious voice then to be heard in England."

New Anti-smoking Campaign

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AP-London. Christians in Britain are gearing up with a new public awareness ministry to warn people of the dangers of tobacco use. Much like "the truth" campaign in the USA, they have taken a blunt and straightforward approach, but with a spiritual twist. "While God created the earth and everything in it," said volunteer Gwendolyn Roundbottoms, "not everything in creation is good for humans. We want to raise awareness of divine guidance on this issue."
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Still, while public health concerns hold interest to the average person in the pew, there's still no calling quite as honorable as sharing the good news.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Relaxing the commandments?

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In one of the Daily Office readings today from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus comments:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:18-19).

Jesus himself had been accused of relaxing the Law--rewriting the rule book where it suited him. His opponents were outraged when they caught him "working" on the Sabbath . . . by healing a man. Of course, when we look closely, we see that Jesus is not relaxing the demands of God's law at all; he is calling us back to its original purpose. "Remember that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," he said.

Indeed, if anything, Jesus strengthens the commandments every time he comments on some item in the Torah. In the same chapter (Matthew 5), Jesus does this in the case of anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and the treatment of your enemies. He takes the familiar approach, "You have heard that it was said . . . [the rule in the Torah], but I say unto you . . . [do even better]."

As a community of Christian disciples, we are continuously tempted to lower our standards and expectations--to relax the commandments--in an effort to be welcoming and loving. Even among the clergy, it is difficult to avoid the thinking, "Well you know they're just going to do it anyway, so we be more open about it."But we must resist the temptation, for it is not truly loving our neighbor; it is really soul-destroying. God does not call us to the lowest common denominator, nor does he want us to aim just to get by. He calls us to the highest standards. Because we fall short, it does not follow that we should lower our standards.

Grace perfects nature. Holiness is a pursuit. Let us take inspiration from one of the other selections from today's Office readings in which St Paul wrote:

"We had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. . . . For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory." (1 Thessalonians 2:2-4, 11-12).


Do you copy?

Monday, May 08, 2006

"Shacking up" without shacking up

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It's called LAT--"Living apart, together."
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Witness the next level in the dissolution of the family. It strikes one as clearly wrong, but also leaves you so dumbfounded as to replace your reservoir of gab with a whimpering "Huh?".

Here's the story, courtesy of Eurekalert!

Traditionally, marriage has been the dominant social institution for couples. Some decades ago a new institution appeared in the western world: non-martial cohabitation. Today, yet another form has developed in Sweden. Four percent of the population chooses to be together, forming a unit, but living in separate households. The phenomenon is described in a new book in Swedish, written by Professor Jan Trost, sociologist at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Irene Levin at Oslo University College in Norway.

They have been studying the new phenomenon in Sweden since 1993 when there were only 65 000 LAT (Living Apart Together-couples) in the country. In 1998, the proportion has risen to 130 000, or four percent of the population. Living Apart Together seems to have the potential of becoming a third stage in the process of social change. "Our analysis suggests that the existence of cohabitation alongside marriage, is a necessary precondition for LATs, regarding recognition as a new social institution alongside marriage and cohabitation," comments Professor Jan Trost.

The great social changes in the Scandinavian countries took place in the beginning of 1970, when the former connected elements: start of living together, marrying, having sex and having a child within a years fell apart. Today, sex is not related to marriage, nor is childbearing to living together. The reasons for couples to live in LAT relationship varies, from not wanting to give up their jobs, to shared custody of children from earlier marriages. Interesting enough, many couples who have the ambition to move and live together after for example retirement, actually continue to live in different households.

Modern society is transforming rapidly. But marriage, or at least living together, is still the ideal. "My belief is that LATs will continue to be a minority, but a minority that deserves recognition," claims Professor Trost. Whether or not LAT also exists in other countries, remains to be seen. As far as the researcher knows, there has been no international study of this kind of relationship.

Let me do some free consulting . . . Get ready; it's here.

You can read about an Oslo study on LATs here, or statistics from Britain here, or the story from the San Francisco Chronicle here.

A well-anchored lady

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Today is the feast of Dame Julian (c. 1417), an anchoress in Norwich. In his book English Spirituality, Martin Thorton begins his description of Julian of Norwich’s theology in her Revelations of Divine Love with the advisory, "Julian’s theology, like that of St Catherine of Siena, is certainly not to be despised, but it best understood by meditation." Indeed, Julian’s presentation of her visions is rightly seen as the fruit of a lifelong reflection on the love of God revealed in the passion of Christ. Her reflection engages her experience; it is far more than just a mental exercise. In her life, Julian herself experienced suffering, joy, and charity, and these became part of her understanding of God. This taught her that true intimacy transcends the mind, that to know God genuinely is to love him utterly.

Julian of Norwich typifies the English school of spirituality in her sense of balance between the affective and the didactic (feeling and knowledge). She had prayed for an imaginative perception of Christ’s sufferings, for her own sickness to the verge of death, and for three "wounds" of contrition, compassion, and longing for God. At thirty years of age, having suffered illness close to the point of death, Julian experienced a series of revelations (which she calls "showings") given in different modes of perception. She recovered from her sickness, and reflected on these mystic visions which were ultimately showings of God’s love. Spiritual insight is most powerful when experience and theology become synthesized and compliment one another. Mystic visions adrift from dogmatic grounding are essentially meaningless. Julian was well grounded in the teaching of the Church. She spent much of her life thinking and rethinking the meaning of her visions in light of those teachings. It was Julian’s earnest longing for God that sustained her spiritual growth.

In reading through the Revelations, I was particularly struck by three points that Julian realized in her visions. The first is her sense of optimism. Though this may have been part of her personality from the beginning, it seems to be an unexpected part of her showings. Julian sees in the passion of Christ that God is good, and that "all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" (SL, Chapter 13). The crucifix is a sign of compassion, and thus a symbol of joy and the cause of Christ’s happiness. This is the context of Julian’s description of Christ as "mother."

The motherhood of God and Christ Julian describes has been a source of controversy, and of recent years, a revival of interest in her Revelations. In part, Julian is simply continuing and expanding the tradition of affective spirituality popularized by Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux. Yet even more central is the fact that Julian has a deep appreciation for the idea that all goodness comes from God, for God created and loves all things. Everything that is good shows us something about God. Jesus Christ himself, in taking human nature as the Word made flesh, possessed all the attributes we consider particular to, and the best in, male and female. He exhibited them in his life and ministry.

Julian never forgets that male and female were created in the image and likeness of God. What we might call "feminine virtues"—comfort, tenderness, compassion, nourishing and self-giving, sheltering, protecting, beauty—are all central to Julian’s vision of God and of divine love. If God is the source of all goodness, of all feminine virtues, and measure of all goodness, then it is only fitting that Christ is our Mother.

This optimism in Julian leads to the second point I found striking in her Revelations—Julian’s perspective on sin. For Julian, sin has to be understood in the context of the love of God and our relationship with him. Or, perhaps at this point I could say our relationship with "Her." It is odd to refer to God in the feminine in an orthodox way, especially in this day of feminist theology, amid the necessity of being theologically clear and guarded in our theological language. But the Revelations of Divine Love shows us that while sin hurts our relationship to God, it is of little account in the face of the abundance of God’s love, and her gentle compassion toward her children. The sinner is like the frightened dirty child, who needs the tender embrace and nurture of his mother. Like a mother, God embraces the sinner, tends to his wounds, and comforts and nourishes him.

This image goes against the dominant traditional view of God at the time as a stern judge and the idea that most humans are destined for eternal punishment (or at least a bitter purgatorial fire). Julian struggles to understand this image theologically. Yet she is also resolute in the belief that the one who truly fears God is not "afraid" of God, but joyfully accepts his goodness and mercy. God cannot be ultimately angry with us as sinners, for sin never dilutes the love of God. This reassurance is comforting in the face of our human struggle with sin and the difficulty in trying to live the Christian life. Julian’s appreciation for homeliness and Benedictine stability goes well with her view of sin. It is our focus on the love of God that calms the waters of our long heavenward voyage.

The third point I liked in Julian was her understanding of the Christian life in terms of a relationship. In this, she is an exemplar of the English school of spirituality, avoiding the legalistic mindset of many Roman Catholic writers. What God earnestly desires from humanity in general, and with each person individually, is an intimate and loving relationship. Sometimes even religion can get in the way of this. The Revelations put things back in perspective. The meaning of all the structures, ritual, art, and other things associated with the Church is the love of God. Julian came to realize that the meaning of all her showings was the love of God. The one message that held Julian in an ecstatic trance for hours was the simple sentiment "I love you."

As a believer and as a priest, certain that God is showing himself in my life and ministry, despite my clouded vision, I find in these points of Julian’s Revelations a good deal of encouragement. Julian is a good reminder of God’s fundamental goodness, his love which overcomes all sin, and his interest in personal relationships. I am glad that Julian never seemed to feel that these showings were intended for her alone. They were always meant to be shared for the edification of others. In priestly ministry, my vision of God in doctrinal knowledge and spiritual experience is not a private matter. The message of God’s love is both for me and a message to be imparted through me. God’s love is great enough to be both plural and personal. It can never be only one or the other.

I also appreciate two further facts about Julian’s own character. Since saints are models of the Christian life for others to follow, it is only appropriate that we should also take inspiration from her own behavior as well as the visions she handed on to us (though as a humble saint, I’m sure Julian would hear nothing of the sort).

First, Julian is able to express herself freely. For example, her words about the motherhood of Christ may have precedents in the Bible and the writings of other saints, yet none develop them to the extent that Julian does. There is no fear in the Revelations of being unreserved in language, yet neither does she come off as being imprudent. It is but another indication of Julian’s optimism. She has faith that the Church’s teachings are true, and she equally has faith that religious experience is meaningful. Julian does not divorce the two. She can be free to speak her mind because her thought is fully digested; she does not speak rashly. Her religious experience is synthesized with dogmatic truth.

Second, Julian’s optimism in the face of uncertainty gives her a certain confidence in the struggle of faith. Julian is a model of living faith, hope, and charity. This confidence in God means that she is willing to acknowledge that she doesn’t have all the answers. Some things are hard to understand. Some things just don’t make sense. Uncertainty need not be indicative of a deficient faith. Rather, it can manifest hope and trust in God. A certain lack of understanding is to be expected along the way of growing in the Christian life. Perhaps, in God’s providence, they are placed there for our benefit—to help keep open what Lady Julian would call the saving wound of an earnest longing for God.
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The residence of Lady Julian, anchored to the parish Church of St Julian in Norwich, England.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A good priest

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Seeing the pebbles, though, I couldn't help but ask, "Who are these from?" And I should've known when my guide replied, "Ed Koch--all of them." The Jewish Democrat who served three terms as mayor of New York shared a close bond with the cardinal; they shared breakfast every month and Koch was a front-row mainstay of O'Connor's Midnight Masses on Christmas, where the celebrant always welcomed him by name from the pulpit, even long after Hizzoner left office.

Of course, that's not to say they saw eye to eye on everything, but O'Connor realized instinctively that there's a time when the rough-and-tumble of politics can and should be left aside so a place for what St Thomas called "the love that is friendship" can flourish. Koch's multiple trips to the crypt, evidenced by the Jewish custom of placing a stone at a loved one's tomb, were a powerful reminder that said love is stronger than death, not to mention bigger than politic.

I knelt there for a long, silent moment, to convey my thanks, my love, and to ask the Big Man's prayers from the Heavenly Powerhouse. Putting my head to the stone, I whispered the words of tribute which always meant the most to him--and the essence of what he was for so many--"Thanks for being a good priest."

What a wonderful thing when both a life and the remembrance of it are sublime. I commend to your reading Rocco Palmo's moving tribute to the late John Cardinal O'Connor, sometime Archbishop of New York, on his excellent blog Whispers in the Loggia. You can ready the whole thing here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A saint for Mother's Day

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The story of Monnica’s life is told in the biography of her eldest son, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. Born in Northern Africa in about 331, she married a man named Patricius, whom she won to the Christian faith before his death. Her ambition for her gifted son were turned into a passionate desire for his conversion as well. His immoral conduct for many years was the cross she bore. After her many fervent prayers and tears, Augustine had begun to change. He was first attracted to the austere life of Manichaeism. When he left her in Africa to go to Italy, she followed, and found him at Milan, where the preaching of Ambrose had convinced him to abandon the errors of that heresy.

Later, her Augustine son finally embraced the Christian faith and was baptized by Ambrose. Monnica was approaching the end of her life. Augustine lamented that she might die far from her homeland. But she told her two sons, “It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord.”

O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The new dark ages

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I should say I don't like using this blog to complain about or criticize churches, especially my own. But this blog is a chronicle of my thoughts, and sometimes I think I should share things that just blow me away. One of those things is the attitude of arrogance among Episcopal elite. The "we know better" attitude. Better that who? . . . than you . . . than the saints and faithful of two millenia . . . than even the author of the Bible.

Here are two outrageous quotes, both from articles that are worth a read. From the May 4th LA Times:

The Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, who was bishop of the Diocese of Newark in New Jersey before his retirement in 2000, said Brust [an opponent of gay ordinations] misses the point. "There's not a scientist in the world today who supports the idea that homosexuals are mentally ill or morally depraved," said Spong, a noted author and outspoken church leader on the subject. "So I'd rather see the church split. I have no desire to be a part of a homophobic church."

And here's a terrifying quote from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold in the April issue of The New Yorker:

It is true, Griswold says, that from "the classical point of view" sexuality "is to be exercised only within heterosexual, monogamous marriages." But he notes that the church has, through time, come to an understanding of marriage and sexuality that is less rigid than that prescribed by the Bible and church tradition. "The Episcopal Church over the years has come to, let us say, an understanding of the human person that is more sophisticated, possibly, than the understanding on the part of the Biblical authors."

The Episcopal Church knows better than the Biblical authors? One thing is for sure, the Episcopal Church should know better.

Update: General Convention deputy Brad Drell has an insightful post here showing the folly of the "those dumb old ancient people in biblical times just didn’t understand same sex affection" argument.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I dream of Jeannie

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What major world religion today believes in the existence of genies?

I don't intend to demean; I was just so started to discover that the worldview of Isalm includes the existence of genies, or "Jinns." But now that I think about it, it does make sense. Islam was formed when Mohammed commandeered Arabian folk religion by imposing monotheism over it. Jinns survived the conquest, and are to be found in the Qu'ran.

From the article at Wikipedia:

For the ancient Semites, jinn were spirits of vanished ancient peoples who acted during the night and disappeared with the first light of dawn; they could make themselves invisible or change shape into animals at will; these spirits were commonly believed to be responsible for diseases and for the manias of some lunatics. Types of jinn include the ghul (night shade, which can change shape), the sila (which cannot change shape) and the ifrit.

The Arabs believed that the jinn were spirits of fire, although sometimes they associated them with succubi, demons in the forms of beautiful women, who visited men by night to copulate with them until they were exhausted, drawing energy from this encounter just as a vampire is supposedly sustained by his victim's blood.

Muslims believe that jinn are real beings. The jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made of smokeless fire by God (the literal translation being "subtle fire", i.e. a fire which does not give itself away through smoke), much in the same way humans were made of a metaphorical clay. In the Qur'an, jinn are frequently mentioned and Sura 72 of the Qur'an named Al-Jinn is entirely about them. In fact, the prophet Muhammad was said to have been sent as a prophet to both "humanity and the jinn." The jinn have communities much like human societies: they eat, marry, die, etc. They are invisible to humans, but they can see humans. Sometimes they accidentally or deliberately come into view or into contact with humans.

Jinn are beings much like humans, possessing the ability to be good and bad. They have the power to transform into other animals and humans, and they are known to prefer the form of a snake. It is also known that they eat bones and their animals eat droppings, that is why it is forbidden to perform Istinja (washing) with those items. Jinns also have the power to possess humans, have much greater strength than them, and live much longer lives. In fact, according to some hadith, the great-grandson of Iblis, or the Devil (who was born before mankind), converted to Islam during the time of Muhammad, so he must have been thousands of years old. According to the majority of Islamic scholars, clear evidence exists in the Qur'an that the Devil was not an angel (as thought by Christians), but a jinn, citing the Quranic verse "And when We said to the angels:'Prostrate yourselves unto Adam.' So they prostrated themselves except Iblis (The Devil). He was one of the jinn..." Surat Al-Kahf, 18:50. According to Islam, angels are different physical beings, and unlike the fiery nature of jinn, they are beings of goodness and cannot choose to disobey God, nor do they possess the ability to do evil. Evil Ifrit (pronounced AYE-FRIT) in the 1000 Nights and a Night are called "the seed of Iblis".

In Islam-associated mythology, the jinn were said to be controllable by magically binding them to objects, as Suleiman (Solomon) most famously did; the Spirit of the Lamp in the story of Aladdin was such a jinni, bound to an oil lamp. Ways of summoning jinn were told in The Thousand and One Nights: by writing the name of Allah in Hebraic characters on a knife (whether the Hebrew name for God, Yaweh, or the Islamic Allah is used is not specified.), and drawing a diagram (possibly a pentagram) and strange symbols and incantations around it.

It is said that one could kill a jinn with the Inwa, a manner of throwing the stone of a fruit so hard so it could, in fact, kill something. The jinn's power of possession was also addressed in the Nights. It is said that by taking seven hairs out of the tail of a cat that was all black except for a white spot on the end of its tail and then taking the possessed and burning the hairs in a small closed room with them, filling their noses with the scent. This would release them from the spell of the jinn inside them.

In the Qur'an, Suleiman had members of his army belonging to the race of jinn. Suleiman had the ability to communicate with all creatures, which allowed him to communicate with the jinn as well. Evil beings from among the jinn are roughly equivalent to the demons of Christian lore. In mythology, jinn have the ability to possess human beings, both in the sense that they persuade humans to perform actions, and like the Christian perception of demonic possession.
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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

I have sent them my only son

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I'm looking forward to the new film Superman Returns, which will be released in the US on June 30th. Check out the teaser trailer. I love how they embrace the messianic imagery that has always been a part of the story.

The teaser closes with the view of Superman floating in space above the earth, with the sun shining behind him. We hear Marlon Brando's voice say, "They can be a great people Kal-El if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all--their capacity for good--I have sent them you . . . my only son." (I also have to say that the sonic boom is a nice touch.)

The full trailer is also now available on the Superman page at Warner Bros. in Quicktime, or in a Winamp version, available here.
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Some things are worth fighting for

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We are Siamese

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This painting of Siamese cats in the moonlight (one of my favourite) and other works of fine art from the Coppermouse are now available. Check it out.
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Monday, May 01, 2006

Photo journalism

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I always think it is better to take at least two photos of any group of people. Take both a posed shot and a candid shot. Of these, I'll let you decide which is which.
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Business up front, party in back

It's getting to be about time for a new haircut. I was wondering if I should change my style. Perhaps a mullet (i.e., short in the front, on the top, and on the sides, but long in the back). You don't see too many clergy mullets out there. The mullet became popular in the 1970s due to the influence of David Bowie, but is known to have been worn long before then. Urban legends have it dating back to 19th Century fishermen, who wore their hair long in the back to keep warm--hence the term mullet. The term is also used in the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, in which George Kennedy's character refers to men with long hair as "mulletheads".

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Or, looking to the future, I could grow everything out long to get ready for a possible comb over. A comb over is a hairstyle worn by bald or balding men where the hair on one side of the head is grown long and then "combed over" the bald area. Some famous men with this hair style are: Rudy Giuliani (gave it up in 2002) René Lévesque (earned him the affectionate nickname of Ti-poil) Donald Trump (more accurately a "comb forward") television preacher Charles Stanley, Desmond Morris, Arthur Scargill (whose comb over was famously mocked in Spitting Image)
and Norman Gunston. The comb over was actually patented in 1977 (see above).