Something clicked at last

I forget where I read it today, but someone quoted Hebrews 2.14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.

Suddenly, I understood that italic section above, verse 15. I don’t know why I didn’t grasp it before, as it seems so obvious (and probably is to everyone else!). It really was something of a revelation to me. Here’s what came to mind.

We often live our lives doing all kinds of strange things, sinful things most of them, because we are afraid of death, trying to get in as much “life” as possible. These sinful practices are a kind of bondage in themselves, which is something repeatedly emphasized throughout the writings of the Church Fathers. Ironically, this grasping at life so-called is really only grasping at death, which is the wages of sin, as we’re told elsewhere. Not only does the poor person, inspired in these things by the evil one, think he’s avoiding a kind of death through non-indulgence of some compulsion or other while actually piling on more and more death, but also all this, without the intervention of repentance, keeps that person from the necessary preparation for an eternity of life in joy in the presence of God.

The author of Hebrews, whoever that was, had a deep understanding of what we now call psychology. The therapy anonymously prescribed is redemption and sanctification, resulting in the transfer of the prisoner from the dank, reeking dungeons of the evil one to the wards, peaceful and sunlit, of the hospital where all patients are healed: the Church, the Body of Christ.

Save us all, O Lord our Physician!

Wonder

I curse my studies. Sometimes, anyway. What good is it to be following a Bible reading plan for the faithful when half of what is going on during my reading is (Lord, have mercy!) a critique of the translation, a mental retroversion to the Hebrew and/or Greek involved, mental notes on historical illumination and literary parallels, and all manner of distractions. The wonder is often gone. I hate that.

Just the other day, I read the Book of Jonah. It’s such a short book amongst the Twelve Prophets, it takes only a few minutes to read through. But what a powerful book! It’s a story that has struck people down through the ages, and was a popular artistic subject in early Christianity (Jonah either going into or coming out of a sea monster; or Jonah resting under his vine hut). And it’s the taking of that story at face value that gives it such power, as a real tale of something that happened to a real prophet of a real Israel, having dealt with a real sea and real giant fish, and a real city of Nineveh. Where does my mind go? Oh, to thinking about this period of Assyrian weakness just before the Neo-Assyrian empire expanded its border at the expense of any number of smaller nations; to thinking about the city Nineveh at that time, how it was not the magnificent place that Sennacherib would begin to make it, and how the description and the book’s writing really must therefore date to the seventh century; to thinking this book’s popularity may partly be due to its having the smallest vocabulary of all the LXX books, yet still being a cracking good tale; to thinking of “gourd” and “vine” and Augustine and Jerome. There is too much noise. This is not reading, but something else, and it is certainly not joyful or enlightening. I have to force myself to step back and turn off that running commentary, that mental footnoting, imposing silence. The silence is necessary.

Then the story unfolds, and wonderment with it. The darkening skies and the heaving sea. Threatening waves and a flimsy boat. Kindly sailors who don’t want to throw Jonah in. Sinking, sinking, “Full fathom five Thy prophet lies….” Seaweed wraps a drowning head. Then a salvific gulp. And this wayward prophet’s last act before dying is prayer in the belly of a fish. And that, his death, is important to recall. He did not, as in Disney’s Pinocchio, live inside the fish. He died. He was dead for three days. And then he was alive again. This was “the sign of Jonah” recalled in the Gospels: three days dead, then alive again. Jonah lives again, still in the belly of the fish, and prays again, and then [blah] he’s freed from the fish. His last act and first act were both prayer: a lesson. And oh, oh, oh, look at Jonah’s “righteous” anger, and what lesson do we gain from that, the tale of an anger that thinks it knows better than does God? And what a strange, but entirely merciful ending: “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Confused or ignorant people deserve pity, not anger, and certainly not destruction, though that would attend Nineveh in time, which is something that seems to be inexplicably hanging in the air throughout the book.

It’s time to take back the wonder. Give the glory to God!

Give thanks . . .

. . . to the Lord, for He is good.

Give thanks for all the good you have witnessed, experienced, and, hopefully, prayerfully, inspired thoughout the year.

Give thanks for all the good that you will witness, experience, and, prayerfully, inspire in the coming year.

Give thanks to have suffered and had your faith made stronger by it.

Give thanks for your future suffering, so that your faith will always increase.

Give thanks always to God, Who loves and saves.

For He loves you, and will save you, if you will have it.

O Holy Spirit

Blow the old man down, Wind,
sky-swimming toward the sea
into the ocean of holiness
where he suffers a sea-change
into something rich and strange
a new man born anew, god by grace

Gust away, Storm of God and send
flying my clouds of filthy earth
laying bare the bedrock of my soul
naked stone of hardened heart
and let the Sun shine
and let the rain fall
and let your wind blow
and wear it down

Rage on, Spirit flood
Flash and pound and roar
Crumble dissolve wash away
this careworn tired shack
tabernacle of selfish hues
that my heart may spring up
alive in the sunlight of God

me, just now

sinfold

sinful me, clay like dough
puffed up and beaten down
rolled and flattened and kneaded
like Him, to rise again

A mysterious conversation

It was nearly a quarter of a century ago. The teenaged boy and his mother went to the newly restored Mission La Purisima near Lompoc, California, the full name of which is Mision La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima. It was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning, warm and clear, and the nave was so full that it was standing room only by the time they arrived. Not long into the service, however, the young man, overdressed for the heat and suffering from the closeness of the centuries old, unventilated church, began to feel unwell. Though he was distressed at leaving in the midst of Holy Mass, he was afraid that he might become sick in the church itself, which was not an option. So he excused himself from his mother and stepped outside. Finding a bench in the shade near a small fountain in the gardens, he sat down to catch his breath and allow his stomach to settle. Not long afterward, a woman in a sky-blue nun’s habit joined him on the bench opposite. The young man thanked her, of course, for her concern for his well-being, and the two continued to talk for some time, with the young man feeling better as time passed. At one point, he saw his mother briefly leave the church and approach, checking on him. She returned to the Mass and her son continued to talk with the kind nun. Eventually taking his leave of the sister, he rejoined his mother for the rest of the Mass. On the way home, the young man mentioned the conversation with the nun, and how much he enjoyed it. His mother, surprised, noted that she didn’t see anyone talking with him on the other bench by the fountain, which fact surprised him indeed. For the woman was there, as plain as day, and they had a good conversation.

Yet to this day I can’t remember what we talked about for all that time….

Some thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the excerpt from Bishop, later Archbishop, now Servant of God (he is in the first steps of canonization as a saint) Fulton J. Sheen that I posted yesterday, The Night Friends of Christ.

First, I was reminded of the kind of strong Catholic culture that used to exist in the United States mid-century, of which Fulton J. Sheen is probably the standout figure. Archbishop Sheen became an actual celebrity, a household name through his popular radio program and extremely popular television presence in two programs, Life is Worth Living and The Fulton Sheen Show, crossing confessional boundaries all around. Archbishop Sheen is still popular in Catholic circles, of course, and various episodes are available on Youtube, and reruns of his programs are broadcast (thankfully!) on EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, a cable station. In the excerpt from the book which I posted yesterday, it’s possible to gain a taste of what made Archbishop Sheen so very popular. His tone is one of the loving teacher, of a father teaching his child important things, though not teaching as though the child were stupid: not paternalistically, but paternally. This is something more easily seen in his television programs: his loving respect for the people in his audience, whom he knows and shows he knows are capable of understanding and of having faith, and of increasing both where already present. Is this so hard for us to do today? Can we not learn from a master who blazed a trail with love? Perhaps that way we could reach other night friends of Christ?

This leads to my second thought, of what a perfect descriptor “Night Friends of Christ” is for those people who are, for whatever reason—family, friends, profession, society’s ridicule (again a problem with the re-paganizing of our once-Christian cultures)—secret friends of Christ, willing to meet Him secretly in the night journeys of their own hearts, but not willing to meet Him in the daylight travelling with His Church, the Body of Christ, seen and known by all as a (gasp!) Christian. Will he next say he believes the Bible? All those dogmas? That there was an exodus? That Israel birthed a Messiah? That a man rose from the dead? That the Almighty God was born, through His completely unnecessary and unselfish love became what we are and suffered what we do in order to heal every instant, every contingent of our existence in this universe of pain and death? Why, yes, he might very well believe all that, and he wouldn’t be alone at all.

So, keep your eyes open for the Night Friends of Christ of your own acquaintance. Pray for them, whether you know of them or not. Most especially, be the example that they need to draw them out into the daylight, so that they might be willing to confront the secular world and its ruling paradigms, and so they will demand their right to their Lord’s, their treasured friend’s, Body!