Open me, revisited

I don’t usually reflect back on a previous post, but I had to this time.

The prayer I composed and then posted Sunday morning has had so much impact on me since then. Praying it, I mean, has had a strange power. And some of the comments I received via text, email and here indicated the same for a few others. It’s a very simple prayer. And maybe that’s the secret.

But today in class I had another insight. I taught the seminarians about the epiclesis at Mass, the “calling out” to the Father asking that He send His Holy Spirit to come down on the gifts of bread and wine and transform them into the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. In other words, we ask the Father to give us everything we seek, i.e. the Christ-bearing Spirit.

Epiclesis, I told my students, is what a baby does when she’s hungry, what a man in pain does when he needs help, what a grieving woman does when she wants to wail aloud her pain in the arms of a compassionate loved one. It is an open-ended cry of the poor and needy, a cry of yearning and hope, a cry of trust, expectation and faith that there is an other who hears, loves, cares, and will respond.

God cannot resist faith (Luke 8:46).

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it. — Psalm 81:11

Friends of mine adopted a child from Romania many years ago, and the state representative they worked with said, “When this child was taken from the orphanage, they said there was an eerie silence. He and the other infants with him had all stopped crying. They’d given up hope of a response.”

In the brightest days or darkest moments, never cease to cry out, to open every crevice of your life to the tender Father who always, always hears our cry. And responds.

Open me

Sorry it’s been so long. Here’s a prayer that came to me early this morning as I prayed at sunrise….

Tender Father,
open my mind
to your Word.
Open my heart
to your Spirit.
Open my memory
to your mercies.
Open my eyes
to your light.
Open my affections
to your beauty.
Open my sufferings
to your compassion.
Open my joys
to your delight.
Open my fears
to your provision.
Open my hunger
to your bread.
Open my thirst
to your wine.
Open my senses
to your glory.
Open my wounds
to your cross.
Open my sin
to your pardon.
Open my pride
to your humility.
Open my power
to your weakness.
Open my weakness
to your power.
Open my poverty
to your abundance.
Open my abundance
to your poverty.
Open my prayer
to your silence.
Open my hands
to your people.
Open my mouth
to your praise.
Open my will
to your command.
Open my life
to your love.
Amen.

 

Controversialist Aversion

Someone asked me recently why I don’t generally comment on controversial headline topics, like national or church politics, in this Blog. In answering him, I offered three reasons which I later wrote in my journal.  As I have not been able to write anything here of late, I thought I would post that journal entry.

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First, I told him, because I don’t have the time or drive to become conversant enough with the complex facts surrounding particular controversies to make what I believe are intelligent or sufficiently informed statements, from a faith perspective, in a pubic forum. Thank God, there are a good number of exceptional pundits out there who carry out this crucial service already, just as there are a plethora of examples of what I would look like were I to opine. As my dad used to often joke, it’s better to remain silent and be thought ignorant than to speak and remove all doubt.

Second, and most important to me, it would change the whole tone of this Blog. I’ve always believed Obstat should be a place for people to come and quietly reflect on the foundations of Faith, on the vast and perennially relevant dimensions of the Mystery of Faith that can so easy get drowned out in the heat of controversy. Obstat is my attempt to demonstrate that deep theological exploration is not just for academic specialists, but for all people of faith. There I try to demonstrate that theology has the capacity to heal the soul, expand the heart, stretch the mind, free the captive, and empower God’s people to transform the world by making them (and all things under their sway) more capax Dei, “capable of God.”

The third reason is a more personal limitation. Being a controversialist online drags one down into the thickets fast and furious. I have plenty of things that already distract me from what is most essential in life, that hinder me from lingering long in prayer or tempt me to seek diversion from difficult and pressing personal issues, family matters, daily duty, work — the world in my immediate purview — that demand my attention first. Social media controversialist culture leads me into unhealthy time wasting, attention stealing, reality evading, affirmation pandering, division fomenting, addiction feeding, toxic bloviating blather.

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I say again, thank you to all who make this Blog, now and again, a resting spot to sit with me under the fig tree and ponder on matters of Ultimate Concern. On Jesus.

Missing the Mockingbird’s dive

A journal entry from a month ago:

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About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star. — Annie Dillard

I have to say that, for me, one of the bitterest curses of the smartphone is its power to distract from the beauty, surprises and annoyances of the real world. As we look down at our glowing screens, mediating a self-selected (or ad driven) reality, will miss the unruly, unpredictable epiphanies of earth, sea, sky or faces around us. And as we are repeatedly immersed in streaming Xfinity megabits per second, our minds dull, become impatient to the unhurried and un-swiped pace of life.

I try hard not to hate on smartphones. They offer immense advantages, obviously, and they are a staple of life now. My problems with them are my problems, and I know some virtuous users. But it becomes harder and harder for me to not grieve their negative effects. It’s been almost two years since I re-adopted a flip phone, after I realized in the smartphone I had met my match. I had been seduced by the allure of voice-to-text, seized by that low buzz itch to check news alerts, social media updates, search articles, look something up, listen to YouTube or Spotify — oh, and back to more voice-to-text.

I disliked who I had become. But there I was. Though I’d won the rationalization battle, I’d lost too much of my inner freedom.

That is, until the day my 92 year old God-inhabited mom, who had been trying to tell me something while I was screen-gazing, accosted me in a rare moment of impatience: “I’m glad I was born when I was. We didn’t have those things. We talked.”

I looked up and woke up.

A few flip-phone beneficial side-effects: My five senses reawakened to the world around me. My geographical imagination (without a phone GPS) rekindled and I rediscovered the wonder of getting lost and asking for directions. My attention span refocused and expanded. I’ve been reminded of the arduousness of meaningful communication. I’ve gloried more readily in fleeting moments that escape recording, and labor to have them inhabit my soul.

I really believe a new “Christian distinctive” should look something like this: We are the new radicals noted for strolling on a beach, sitting on a porch, walking in a mall, swinging in a park, waiting at a bus stop, standing in line at a checkout, exercising on a treadmill, eating in a restaurant, sitting alone at home, or (gasp!) driving a car … without once looking at our phone.

Yes, we are the Masters, and these are our phone-servants.

Tertullian wrote in the third century, “See, [the pagans say of Christians], how they love one another…” Maybe a new Tertullian will write in 20 years of Christians:

The pagans marvel about us, saying, “See how they love one another! At extreme length they dwell together without a device in hand or in ear. They live in the world with such serenity and attentiveness, even in silence and boredom. Have they gone mad?”

And among our number, maybe a new St. Francis can again arise, per Pope Francis’ vision:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever St. Francis would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.

His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.

Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Stop, and try to see a Mockingbird dive…

Sacramental Music

“Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.” ― Kurt Vonnegut

I know I would.

I live vicariously through my wife, my daughters who direct, compose, play and sing music. Music lifts, stabs, frightens, inspires, motivates, expands, assaults, bewilders, delights, irritates me.

Secular and sacred music. I love them both, though I refuse to easily distinguish them into hardened categories. I agree wholeheartedly with Kenneth Himes’ assertion, “the sacred is the sacramental form of the secular, i.e., the sacred is the secular in its full depth.”

In the last few months I have tried to go nearly every weekend, in the evening, to Neutral Ground Coffee House in New Orleans. It’s eccentric, where local, national and sometimes international musicians perform music only a few feet away from you. Jazz, rock, blues, bluegrass, indie, country, to name a few of the genres. Their self-description:

Somewhere between the good and the bad, with a pocket full of good music and strange folks, lies the Neutral Ground in all its heavenly glory.

I get my hot drink and sit for an hour or two or three.  Sometimes till midnight, sometimes one of my children joins me. For whatever reason, I find there I can pray as in few other places.

Pop Christian music rarely feeds my spirit, but secular music — with depth — frequently does. Always has, in a visceral way. In the music born of the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way suffer, I encounter Christ.

I beg God every morning to raise up exceptional secular musical artists, who find in their Catholic worldview worthy inspiration.

My daughters and I  went to the Twenty One Pilots concert in New Orleans Wednesday night.

I will write about it soon, but the prayer I discovered in that concert is still with me now.

 

Dads

My work continues to outpace my free time to write here, but today I had to honor fathers.

In 1993, I heard a Vigil Mass homily on Trinity Sunday at St. Joseph’s Trappist Abbey that included a remarkable insight. Here’s what I wrote in my pocket notebook:

In God, the mystery of the Father is singular. What is He like? He is the Origin and source of absolutely everything. The Creed says creation was uniquely His work, or you might say, His idea and initiative. The Creed even tells us that the Father is the source-less Source of divinity, who eternally begets the Son and breathes forth the Spirit.

The Father is, simply put, an uncreated and infinitely pure act of generosity in a total and inconceivable way. His nature is complete self-wasting giving away without necessity or incentive or self-interest or beginning. In a totally singular way, the Father is pure love without a why.

When the Son and Spirit came into the world, sent by the Father for us, it seems all they want to do is speak of the Father. The Father! The Father! They seem like small children running everywhere to share their overflowing wonder and gratitude and joy that He IS, and that they ARE because of Him.

And they both call Him — and want us to call Him — by that tender Aramaic name, “Abba!” [Rom. 8:15; Mark 14:36].

In fact, as I prayed on this mystery over the week, it occurred to me that Jesus’ whole human life, but above all His crucifixion and death and resurrection, seems to be the Son and Spirit’s way of trying to demonstrate, prove, show to us, in the most extreme way imaginable, just how extraordinary and immeasurable and infinitely extreme the eternal Father’s love is.

And Jesus established the Eucharist as the way we can join Him in forever thanking the Father for being love, and join the Son and Spirit in Their demonstration of this truth for the whole world to see.

The Son loves out of the abundance of the Father’s love, and the Spirit is the outpouring of the Father’s love. But the Father? 1 John 4:8 captures it: “God IS love.”

In every father, spiritual, adoptive and biological, the Face of that Father is to be found, etched, radiantly present. By the power of the Spirit and the Heart of the Son, may it be so for all of us privileged to be called ‘father.’

I was wrecked

[From this morning’s journal]

Yesterday, Pentecost.

I was wrecked by an Apocalypse, now
the End was falling backwards, raising the fallen
as New Creation rushed in to save us Olden ones.

How can I keep from singing?

Are you not still shaking in this Aftermath?
Did you not see the skies Ablaze?
Can you not still hear the echoed roar of Yahweh Sabaoth?
Were you not left breathless by His mighty Zephyr?
Soaked in the crackling Fire falling?

At Mass the wings of the Dove were immensely laden. They shimmered, I shook.

He came, rushed upon our Gifts overthrown without destruction
giving God-from-God as Food for the hungry, Drink for the thirsty.

I heard a still whisper, a loud cry: Come, regather my scattered children!
as freely fell limitless riches won by Christ Ascending
lavishly rising Downward, wholly extended, fully expended, God given-away
left forever open-wounded, God-emptied, King-impoverished, Infinity-dispossessed.

Yes, forever.

And I could hear uncountable prison doors unlocking around me
feel violent earth-tremors quake from unshackling chains falling
once worn by the flogged Redeemer, our incarcerated executed High God.

For us men and for our salvation, you came down to this?

Madness seems always Thy eternal preference.

Be still and listen. Ask. Wait. Watch. Beg. Expect. Receive. Give.

The Mystery is above you, beside you, beneath you.

Within you.

Look Up! He comes…