Unstructured Thoughts

EinsteinWe can never explain God simply can we? Never, no matter how much we try.

Oh we can pretend that we can. We can for instance call God, “love”.  All that needs saying right?

No, it but starts the conversation surely. How does this “love” allow for all this hate and misery and pain and suffering in this world of ours? And even before these creatures called humans deigned to stand up and gaze over the grasslands, it was so. Some animals are carnivorous, feeding off other passive creatures. How “loving” is that?

When the opposable thumbed ones stood up, did they do so out of a desire to see the world in a bigger context or because it enabled them to see danger when  it was still far enough away to do something about it? Before they too became somebody’s meal?

Creator of the universe? Yes, but is this “our” universe, or a lot of “ours” universe? Is it our playground or simply our small slice of this one? Are there many? Do they each have a God, or is this one running them all? Is Jesus our Jesus, or is Jesus, Jesus everywhere?

Oh you know the answer? Confess, it’s only a guess. You guess you know. You choose to believe you know. You don’t really know.

Is that the essence of God? Is it determining to believe what you can’t know? But perhaps I cannot know what came before the “Big Bang”. Astrophysicists tell me that I may not ever be able to. Is that where God is?

Are we all just struggling humans trying to make human sense out of what is not human? After all, did the psalmist have it right when he said, “how hard for me to grasp your thoughts”? Can I grasp them? What exactly is “in my image” mean after all?

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But then there is this: “if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to be able to investigate the world, how have they been so slow to find its Master?”

We are tantalized with both you see, the confounded frustration of never “getting it” to the assurance that we can. Or at least the belief that we can. For that image thing surely means that we must “think” in the manner of God, in the sense that 2 + 2 = 4, and if A = B, and A = C then B = C. It must be like that, surely?

So why can’t we KNOW for God’s sake? Actually why can’t we know for our own sake, for surely God doesn’t need us to know, but we desperately need to know. Or don’t we? Is there some delicious wonderment in believing rather than knowing? Is that comforting and empowering somehow that cold factual knowing can’t be?

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After years on his cushion, a monk has what he believes is a breakthrough: a glimpse of nirvana, the Buddhamind, the big pay-off. Reporting the experience to his master, however, he is informed that what has happened is par for the course, nothing special, maybe even damaging to his pursuit. And then the master gives the student dismaying advice: If you meet the Buddha, he says, kill him.

Why kill the Buddha? Because the Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha, but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed he will only stand in your way.

If that’s true, and it may well be, then what are we to do then? Toss the bible in the trash? Stay away from every edifice that signifies the place of knowing, i.e., Church? Don’t read what anyone writes about the subject? Because the minute you think you have a handle on God, like partially set jello in your hands, it slides away? The minute somebody makes sense, or assures you that they know, you can be very sure they don’t?

I don’t recall wherein his Confessions, he said this, but  Augustine said, “God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed.”

How much clearer could that be? And pray tell, why does Augustine then proceed to tell us so much about God? We are driven to explain what is inexplicable, and by its very nature is probably clearly not what we explain.
Perhaps it is what keeps me in the Catholic church and out of it at the same time. I don’t trust the messenger any more, yet I know God is there. It’s all very funky in my head when I try to sort it all out. Perhaps sorting is the wrong thing to do. Just let it ferment old girl, just let it ferment. It will take care of itself.

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I do know that this passage has stayed in my head for more than a week. I can’t shake it. I guess I ask God a lot for wisdom. Maybe because that is one of the few things in the Bible where a feminine aspect of God is clear. Wisdom is SHE, damn it, and if you don’t like it, well too bad.

Anyway, I long for this:

There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,

unique, manifold, subtle,

mobile, clear, unpolluted,

distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,

irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,

steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,

all-powerful, overseeing all,

and penetrating through all spirits

that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

24 For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;

because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.

25 For she is a breath of the power of God,

and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;

therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.

26 For she is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

27 Although she is but one, she can do all things,

and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;

in every generation she passes into holy souls

and makes them friends of God, and prophets;

28 for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

29 She is more beautiful than the sun,

and excels every constellation of the stars.

Compared with the light she is found to be superior,

30 for it is succeeded by the night,

but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

8 She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,

and she orders all things well.(Wis. 7: 22-8:1)

Until God so chooses to grace me, I remain but a God Seeker. But then, truly, whether we know it or not, aren’t we all?

Amen

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Where Does Peace Start?

kink-jesus_spankI am probably a lot like you. I’ve been mulling over this Syria thing for some time. I’m frankly pulled in two directions. It is appalling to see all this death caused by bombs carrying deadly gas. Yet is being torn apart by shrapnel any more civilized?

I weep for average people who did not start this unholy war, yet I weep for the dead children that continually fall in the streets of our urban cities.

I recognize the big issues of letting Assad “off the hook” and emboldening Iran yet further, yet I recall that much that is wrong in the Middle East today is part and parcel of American and European meddling and interference decades ago.

And then smack dab in the middle of all this, comes this:

spanking

Now I very innocently (so I thought) replied:

I was spanked as a child. Although it didn’t make me hate my parents, I believe that there are better ways of assisting a child to grow up rather than through violence against them. We are a violent culture and we will not be a peaceful one until we start at the most basic level to stop hitting others. Maybe we can then take the next step and stop killing them. Funny how peace works.

That was met with this:

It’s called loving the child enough to discipline them. Spare the rod and spoil the child. If you spank a child when they are young enough and make sure they understand the reason for the spanking and reinforce your love for them you will not need to dicipline (sic) them through spanking as they get older.

It only got worse from there, even when I cited to the literature which says there really is no dispute about the fact that physical discipline is counterproductive period.

But what saddened me was the trotting out of the tried and true “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. How much abuse in the world of child-rearing has occurred using that phrase as justification? And all for the reason that it is utterly misunderstood.

Again we are plagued by the fundamentalist and their literalist approach. An extraordinarily excellent explanation is given here about what a rod is biblically and what a rod is used for biblically and what Solomon meant by this phrase from Proverbs. Basically the word rod is shebet or shevet, the same world used in Psalm 23, which “comfort”. Why does the rod comfort? Because a shepherd uses a rod not to beat the sheep, but to guide, (pressing it against them to move them), protect, (from predator animals) and to hold (keep them from proceeding further into danger).

Given that Solomon was the son of David, a shepherd, is it more likely that Solomon meant the phrase in this manner than as license to wail upon a child?

Can anyone imagine that Jesus would spank a child?

I find synchronicity in today’s first reading:

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight. (Wis. 9: 13-18b)

We are mere mortals and yet some of us claim to “know what God wants”. We do not. We can only reach for the very best in humanity and assume that God wants at minimum that. Beyond that, we can have no idea. We are weighted down by our bodies and “many concerns” as Wisdom announces.

If love and peace are the highest attributes we as humans can conceive, then war and violence can play no part in God’s plan. We may, as we have always done, call upon God as our partner in war and violence, but we are but excusing ourselves from responsibility in doing so.

It is said in response to the question of “how to we make peace in the world?”, that we should be peaceful. We start that by creating peaceful homes.

It’s the Jesus thing to do.

Amen.

Waffles Anyone?

Have you ever made waffles? No I don’t mean open the freezer and pop a couple of frozen discs into the toaster. I mean make up a batter and heat up the waffle iron. Real waffles, the kind your mother used to make?

One has to learn the art of waffling. It’s not the batter, any good cookbook will give you the simple recipe. No, the art is in the pouring. Too little and the waffle is deformed with incomplete edges. Too much, and batter drips out of the iron and makes an awful mess.

Just right? Ahh, now that is a thing to behold. You learn by doing. Pouring and then watching as the batter oozes and slides around the patterned nubs. When you have the right amount, it runs slowly like lava until it has covered the entire grid. Close the lid, and wait until it’s golden and you have perfection.

Today’s readings remind me of waffles.

Jesus relates a number of parables all of which have a common theme: that the Word infiltrates throughout the world.

The good seed grows up among the weeds and at harvest can be separated. The mustard seed grows, it fills out into branches and twigs and becomes a wonderful full shrub that can support and care for those who nest within its intricate structure. The yeast permeates the entire dough, leavening it all over time.

We learn that if we live as vital members of the Kingdom, we too permeate all of creation and leaven it for good.  Some of our “good works”, our “good neighborly” voice rubs off on those around us. Or as the Buddhist might say, good karma draws good karma.

We look at the world around us and there is little to be happy about. Governments worldwide fail miserably to serve their people. Our misbegotten practices, designed to satisfy our own greed has seemingly turned Mother Nature against us. People argue and war against each other over real or imagined wrongs, greed, fear, and other negative emotions. It is easy to believe that we are “going to hell in a handbasket” as the old saying suggests.

These parables give us comfort in remembering that that is not so. In the Hebrew Testament from Wisdom, we are reminded that God is always just, and when we emulate that justice, that mercy, and that forgiveness, we are most like God and we can be assured that we are seeping into the cracks of a broken world, working the magic that is love. We are joining together, uniting a fractured community and binding it together. We knit a network that provides hope and security to a frightened people.

Paul reminds us in Romans that we do not act alone, but that the Spirit of God is ever with us, perfecting our words and actions so that they are more than the woeful efforts of our individual desire. The Spirit residing within makes our words more loving, more gentle, more powerful. We reap a greater harvest than we perhaps can be aware of. We remember to trust that our meagre efforts will yield a hundredfold.

We are not alone as souls lost among the evil of our times. We are lighthouses providing the guiding light that calls home the frightened and tired sailor. We form an interconnected network that upholds and uplifts humanity to an ever-growing awareness of God’s center in us all. We are a thread in the tapestry that creates the perfection that really underlies all the mud we seem mired in.

Or we can be. If we remember.

Amen.

Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8: 26-27
Matthew 13: 24-33

 

Come Down Out of Your Tree

We are, as believers, quite familiar with Zacchaeus and his story. We are most familiar with the meaning of the story.

We know that Zacchaeus was well-known in his town. He was probably not liked, for he was a senior tax collector, meaning presumably that he been a tax man for a long time, and more importantly, that he had done exceedingly well at his job.

There is nothing to suggest that he had any intention to meet Jesus, rather, he seemed to want to take a “measure of the man,” this man who people were talking about in the surrounding countryside.

There is nothing to suggest that Zacchaeus had any desire to be “saved” or that he saw himself as a sinner. He was merely sizing up the man whom he had heard of, perhaps wanting to see if there was anything about him that suggested he was any of the things people were whispering about.

Jesus arrives at the tree that Zacchaeus has climbed and looks up. He orders him down. And he tells Zacchaeus that he intends to supper with him. This must have shocked Zacchaeus, since he full knew the opinion of the Pharisees about him. And it was true, they complained, loudly passing the word that Jesus was intent on eating with a sinner! But eye to eye with Jesus, something happened.

This man, who must have been hard-hearted in order to do his job, had a transformation. He immediately told Jesus he would give half of his wealth to the poor, and return four times over any money he had acquired by unfairness. What a transformation indeed.

I recall, as I proceeded through the catechumenate, learning about all the Catholic dogma about social issues, sexual to be exact. Certainly most of these were touched on quite lightly, they were trying to convince us to join the Church not run from it. I was troubled indeed about birth control, celibacy issues, homosexuality, abortion, and divorce. These rules basically went against my natural inclination. None of them touched me personally at that time, and perhaps I could have simply ignored them.

Instead, I tried mightily to understand why my Church taught these things. I struggled with them in my heart. I prayed about them. In the end, I conformed for one singular reason: my conversion had arisen from the sudden conclusion that I was not wise enough to overcome the depth and breath of intellect that, before me, believed. Here now too, I came to the same conclusion. I must assume the Church to be wiser than me–at least until I had spent time looking deeply into these issues.

I trusted in the general logic of Catholicism, the fact that there were no places of which I was aware where there were logical dead ends, or places of deep conflict. All inexorably fit together, and so I accepted what I was taught, albeit with a heavy heart.

Over time, I was to learn a good deal more, read a good deal more, have the benefit of learned teachers who had studied these matters thoroughly and come up with different ideas. Slowly, I came back to where I had been, and came to believe that the Church’s dogma was flawed, and understandable from its own history.

My point is simply, that I think excluding people as “sinners” for violating innumerable sexual prohibitions should lead anyone to feel exceedingly sad. We are, after all, desirous of having everyone partake of the Eucharist I presume. We want all to be saved do we not? To conclude that some folks must be denied is painful. It was to me at that time, and I would think it would be to all faithful orthodox Catholics.

Yet, this is not what I find. Instead, I find that old bugaboo, arrogance come to play. All too many “orthodox” Catholics are eager, almost joyous in their condemnation of those who aren’t being “orthodox” as they see it. They are eager to label people–“you Cafeteria Catholic,”  they sneer. They tell me that “Catholicism is hard” and why don’t I “go to some feel-good Protestant church where they cater to what you want to hear”. When I protest that Jesus told us not to judge, they drag out plenty of ammo from Paul, about how they are they are not judging, but “admonishing the sinner” as they are “called to do.”

Some of them are quite ugly in their rhetoric. They clearly take great pride in “doing what is hard,” though I’m not sure what is hard about chastising others for not living up to their interpretation of things.

It all leaves me with a bad taste. Zacchaeus may have climbed a tree to see better, but some of our orthodox brethren are also up trees, just not to see. They are up there to pick out from the crowd those they believe must be culled from the congregation. They are there to spot the sinners and whisper loudly and complain–“these people have no right to be in God’s house!”

Perhaps, they will hear Jesus calling for them to come down, and eye to eye, they too might be transformed, as I ultimately was. Perhaps they will see that following Jesus was never about pointing out the sinner, so much as it was and is about ministering without judgment to all God’s creation. For we also learned today:

Yes, you love everything that exists, and nothing that has been made disgusts you, since if you had hated something, you would not have made it. And how could a thing subsist, had you not willed it? Or how be preserved, if not called forth by you? No, you spare all, since all is yours, Lord, lover of life! (Wis 11:24-26)

Perhaps, we might leave all this other stuff up to God to decide. After all, it’s His kingdom.

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