Pause

This week is the first week of classes, so I will be immersed in those preps and won’t be able to post until the weekend.

Thank you, as ever, for reading my work.

God bless.

 

“What is your genius?”

Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered – either by themselves or by others. – Mark Twain

“What is your genius?”

My grandfather asked me this one time when I was in junior high. Quoting Twain to me (which he loved to do), he continued, “everyone has a genius in them. A part of them that’s fitted to unlock some secret in the world for the rest of us. It’s not the exception, it’s the rule.” “So,” he pressed me, “what is it that makes you feel energized, determined, resolved?” I said, “Exploring nature.”

I remember it sounding lame to me as I said it, like it was too vague. Yet he said, “Good, then find a way to do that the rest of your life and be relentlessly single-minded.” Unquestionably, that day a seed of confidence was planted, long to lay dormant. Which is why I remember it so clearly.

He then said, “Mine was unlocking the potential in men for greatness and success. I can see the genius of others and where to put it to work.” Indeed, he went into business, becoming an exemplary leader dedicated to unlocking greatness in a company and in each person he worked alongside.

I can testify to his genius in my life.

I myself went on to study meteorology, but still retained my other “natural” childhood passions — entomology, ornithology, oceanography, cosmology and landscape design. Yet, thirty-eight years after our conversation, Pop, here I sit at my desk as a theologian.

Yet again, I am convinced his advice to me still holds true. Even if my passions were never developed by the discipline of scientific rigor, my innate fascination with the natural world has served as a primary fuel for my theological vocation. For me, the poetry of Psalm 19 dominates my vision,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

I would also add that my fascination has retained its (for lack of a better expression) childhood character, as it remains principally a contemplative posture, an aesthetic quest driven by the surprising beauty that is the world. This vantage permits me to see around me a vast, so to speak, Burning Bush through which God, like an infinitely giddy child, gives away in fits of explosive joy all His best kept secrets.

I have always imagined the Exodus and the Resurrection of Jesus this way. a surprising explosion of joy erupting into a joyless space. Or an eternal game of hide and seek that injects into dark human tragedy, bright divine comedy.

Or so it seems to me.

May each of us place our genius in service to the appearing of God.

Feel truly **responsible** before the bread that gives life to the world

A priest friend of mine texted me this quote yesterday,

I read this from a homily on this Sunday’s reading by Oscar Romero, whom I’m becoming more convinced was fruit of Vatican II truly lived out: “Jesus, the Eternal Priest, celebrated the first Mass and shared communion with his Apostles but then told his followers: Do this in my memory. Thus the priesthood came into existence and the priests were entrusted with maintaining the Eucharist. This is our principal mission, but we must give the Eucharist its **fullest meaning**. This means that we do not simply distribute the hosts but must understand what it means to **redeem** people, to **save** people so that when they come to communion they feel as though they have truly been **developed**. It is for this reason that we insist that the sacraments must be celebrated with a greater awareness and that no one should come to communion unless they feel truly **responsible** before the bread that gives life to the world.”

This priest friend works with people who live on the edge of life, on the margins of society. They are people who more often than not were born into desperate situations and have tried to cobble together a life out of the chaotic rubble around them.

He and I met in a coffee shop not long ago and talked for a long time about his ministry. Near the end of the conversation, I told him about a course I am teaching this Fall on theodicy, the problem of evil and suffering, and how priests can minister in a redemptive manner to the suffering by bringing the power of the Cross to bear in their lives. I said, “The motto of the course is the last petition of the Our Father, ‘deliver us from evil.'”

He paused, seemed a bit surprised and was clearly moved by something I’d said. “My word,” he said, “that phrase is remarkable. It’s exactly what I hope for [named a man he was working with].”

We ended our conversation. As I drove home I thought on our exchange, and on those words from the Lord’s Prayer. They contain within them, in compressed form, all of the lamentations, all of the pained and desperate cries of humanity to Heaven, cries that are woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. I thought of those remarkable words of Exodus 3:7-8,

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians…”

I have observed, heard, know. I have come down to deliver them. Running down the ages to pick us off the ground.

That is the exodus from Egypt, the Passover of the Lord. That is the Incarnation and the Cross, the God who became a condemned slave to rescue us slaves from our plight. That is the Eucharist, the Passover meal, the Slave’s self-offering to deliver us from evil, from the Evil One.

So when we eat the torn Flesh and drink the spilled Blood of the Deliverer, we receive our rescue and we pledge — Body of Christ. Amen. Blood of Christ. Amen. — to become His rescue to those enslaved around us. To live for the life of the world.

Like my priest friend, who loves these broken, spilled children of God so well.

Thanks, Mom and Dad!


A simple post today.

Today is my birthday. I mention that not to attract good wishes (though prayers are welcome!), but to say that today is another day that reminds me of the gap left in the world after my father’s death.

Why?

Well, sometime in the 1990’s my dad said to me on my birthday, with his characteristic chuckle, “Happy birthday, son! But really, shouldn’t this day be about you thanking me and your mother for giving you a birthday, right?!”

We laughed hard. But after that, I did precisely that. I made my annual birthday celebration a day of gratitude to them for giving me life, for co-creating me with God. Especially as my mom was in her 40’s!

I have written often on gratitude, on the beauty of the “it would have been enough” mentality that acknowledges every moment we live as more than we deserve. Simply to exist is sheer gift. To exist is itself sufficient reason for unending gratitude. Asking “why something rather than nothing” supplies us with sufficient cause for gawking wonder and shapes our lives into one giant “THANK YOU!”

But, my God, to confess in addition that God has prepared an eternity of well-being for us out of sheer love?

Total mind shut-down.

My impulse early this morning to call dad with the “thank you call” was succeeded by a sense of grief. And then by a prayer. In fact, I couldn’t help but pray the prayer I’d heard countless times in his small Orthodox Church all those Sundays I attended with him…

It is meet and right to hymn Thee, to bless Thee,
to praise Thee, to give thanks to Thee,
and to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion.
For Thou art God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible,
incomprehensible, ever-existing and eternally the same,
Thou and Thine only-begotten Son and Thy Holy Spirit.
Thou it was who brought us from nonexistence into being,
and when we had fallen away didst raise us up again,
and didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst
brought us up to heaven, and hadst endowed us
with Thy Kingdom which is to come.
For all these things we give thanks to Thee,
and to Thine only-begotten Son, and to Thy Holy Spirit,
for all things of which we know and of which we know not,
whether manifest or unseen, and we thank Thee for this Liturgy
which Thou hast deigned to accept at our hands,
though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels
and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim,
six- winged, many-eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions
Singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth!
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!

People around me as vocations from God

+ + +

I received a handwritten note from someone in the mail the other day thanking me for a talk I gave quite a long time ago. What a beautiful act of kindness that is! In part, it read,

…what changed the most for me was the way I looked at difficult people and situations in my life. Until your talk I’d really never thought of the people around me as “vocations” from God. I think of myself when I think of my vocation, not of other people. And I guess only thought of religious things as vocational not the normal daily stuff or the regular people around me as God pulling me out of myself, as you said it.

I asked God to help me see the world this way the night you spoke at our men’s group because it sounded like such a beautiful way to look at things. I believe he gave it to me since from then on I began to notice a spark inside me whenever people would irritate or challenge me in some way. Before I just grumbled at best. The voice inside seemed to be saying “be MY patience, be MY kindness, be MY honesty, be MY smile” to this or that person. It was crazy!

Like I could see God was not just asking me to do these things, you know be nice or charitable. But that he was trying to make me into a kind of person who does these things.

This has changed the bottom line for me. That killer quote from St. John of the Cross sledge hammered the point home. Thanks for letting me know where to find it. It got printed immediately and is a keeper in my prayer book…

Here was the section of my talk he referred to:

Imagine St. John speaking these words into your life – no, it’s not a “monastery” you’re in, but wherever you find yourself, hear the same call from God coming to you:

To practice the second counsel, which concerns mortification, and profit by it, you should engrave this truth on your heart. And it is that you have not come to the monastery for any other reason than to be worked and tried in virtue; you are like the stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building.

Thus you should understand that those who are in the monastery are craftsmen placed there by God to mortify you by working and chiseling at you. Some will chisel with words, telling you what you would rather not hear; others by deed, doing against you what you would rather not endure; others by their temperament, being in their person and in their actions a bother and annoyance to you; and others by their thoughts, neither esteeming nor feeling love for you.

You ought to suffer these mortifications and annoyances with inner patience, being silent for love of God and understanding that you did not enter the religious life for any other reason than for others to work you in this way, and so you become worthy of heaven.

If this was not your reason for entering the religious state, you should not have done so, but should have remained in the world to seek your comfort, honor, reputation, and ease.

Holiness, holiness
Is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness
Is what You want from me

Faithfulness, faithfulness
Is what I long for
Faithfulness is what I need
Yes, it is – spoken
Faithfulness, faithfulness
Is what You want from me

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind transform it
Take my will conform it
To Yours, to Yours, oh Lord

Brokenness, brokenness
Is what I long for
Brokenness is what I need
Brokenness, brokenness
Is what You want from me

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind transform it
Take my will conform it
To Yours, to Yours, oh Lord

So take my heart and form it
Take my mind and transform it
Take my will and conform it
To Yours, to Yours, oh Lord

Holiness, holiness
Is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness, holiness
Is what You want from me

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry

In the midst of these days of headlines filled with news of predatory priests and cover-ups, God placed in my path very recently a lovely story I consider to be a thing of great beauty. Let me share.

A woman I’ve known for a few years was in New Orleans recently for a meeting. As she was walking into a restaurant, she said she noticed a $100 bill lying on the cobblestone sidewalk just outside the front doors. She picked it up and went inside, telling the host, “I found this on the ground outside. If someone comes and tells you they lost a $100 bill, please give it to them. Otherwise I will pick it up on the way out.”

Two hours later, as she left, the host informed her no one had claimed it. So she took it and left him her number in case someone claimed it later.

What did she do with it then? What would you have done? What would I have done? Of course, there is no one right answer.

She told me she immediately prayed and asked God to inspire her to give it to whomever He wished. She said, “I knew it wasn’t mine. It belongs to someone out there in need. And God knows best who that is.”

I have not spoken to her since that conversation to find out what she did with it. But the vision beneath her approach is what really captured my attention. Yes, her honesty and sense of fairness in not simply taking it as “free money” — finders keepers, losers weepers — was praiseworthy and noble. But it was the naturalness of that phrase, “It belongs to someone out there in need” — that was, to me, remarkable. It reminded me so much of St. Basil the Great’s words,

When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.

Fact is, this is how this woman lives her life all the time. She spends her own “mad money” on food gift cards to hand out to beggars (and then speaks with each by name when she gives), volunteers at a soup kitchen, offers practical counsel and assistance to mentally ill homeless. She rarely talks about the poor or poverty, can’t wax eloquent criticizing unjust economic policies, but simply quietly does justice. And in that, she reminds me of Fr. Thomas Dubay’s words,

…poverty embraced in faith does something to a person in the deep resources of his being. It matures him, develops him, makes him receptive to what the Lord Jesus is about. It is not merely a superficial ability to parrot words about the dire straits of the third and fourth worlds, to proclaim with an abundance of rhetoric but with no follow through in life…

Gospel-style poverty is what she thought, what she prayed, what she did the day she found that $100.

Pillar of the world.

Rejoice, O Virgin!

It’s a busy day at the seminary today, so I can’t write.

I did want to wish all of you a joyous Summer Easter, the solemn feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

In honor of this celebration of hope in the resurrection of the body, let me share Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sublime setting for the Orthodox version of the “Hail Mary,” Rejoice, O Virgin. 

It is in Slavonic, but here are the words, in English:

Rejoice O Virgin Theotokos, Mary full of grace,
the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among
women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for
thou hast borne the Savior of our souls.