Break

Sunset

Sunset on the levee

I must take a real break here, as I plow through a pile of work the next few days and then leave town for a few weeks this Friday.

Once I get settled on my journey, I hope to catch some quiet spaces to write.

In the mean time, it is a joy to think with you here as we run along the way to the Kingdom that is to come. May the Lord bless you abundantly.

Father-forever

2005

Sometimes you gotta bleed to know
That you’re alive and have a soul
But it takes someone to come around
To show you how. — Tyler Joseph

At some point during their eighteenth year, I go out to eat a meal with each of my children and ask them about their experience of me as a father. How would they describe it? What did I do well? What did I not do well? What were the most memorable moments?

It’s both terrifying and exhilarating to ask and listen, and those conversations, thus far, have been incomparable treasures for me. Not only do these conversations allow me to learn more about fatherhood and gain wisdom about myself, but more than anything they open a pathway of open communication with each child for the future. I want them to know love is two ways, that they can speak to me as adults, with friendship as the long term goal. “I no longer call you children, but friends.” Yes, father-forever, of course. But what I have looked forward to most is a friendship with human beings whom I consider remarkable.

What I have thus far learned from them in these conversations is (to keep it generic) that, more than anything else, we fathers do well to be careful with consistency (in discipline and in matching words-deeds); to not discipline in anger as it distracts from the lesson and focuses on the parent in a not-good way; to not promise and fail to follow through; and to frequently and intentionally waste time with your child as they grow up is a gift that pays huge long-term dividends in their souls (e.g. fish, play, non-directive talk, laugh, eat as a family, hike, swim, toss the ball, play board games, work in the soup kitchen as a family).

I also learned that they really are grateful for all the things we said “no” to that helped them say “yes” to even better things. And I learned that the best way to hand on the Faith is to associate it with joy in a community of joyful, authentic, real-deal believers (which is why we frequently invite all kinds of cool, normal, fun people of faith into our home).

Oh, they are grateful for our emphasis on education, for teaching them them the value of working, for the example of seeing us read books and newspapers, for not be on our phones often, for loving music so much as to fill the house with it, and for taking interest in their friends and welcoming them into our family.

There’s so much more, and many very funny things, but those above stood out to me. Man, I sure wish they had told me all of this before they were born! I told them as much. 🙂 Fatherhood is wasted on the young! So much I would change, looking back. Thank God for all the good and godly men in my life who have taught me wisdom I would never have known. For me, they were/are what the Lord said of Himself:

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. — John 14:9

I love to quote what my grandfather once wrote me when our first son was born, “Don’t believe those who tell you, Tommy, that when your child is born you become a father. No! Your child rips fatherhood out of you. But the trick is, you have to let them do it.”

So today, dads, thank your children for the rips and tears they have left in your heart. Those paternal scars you will one day, in the Age to Come, discover were unimaginably glorious in beauty and life-giving for the children God gave you to love with His own Fatherly love poured out in the ripped Heart of His Son.

And thank God for my own father, Edmond, who has passed on into the Age to Come. May the Father grant him light, happiness and peace, and may his scars heal into glory. Amen.

Filthy, Smelly, Sweaty Liturgy

[re-post 2015]

The liturgy is nothing more nor less than the Body corporate of Christ Jesus, suffused with his Spirit and assembled in time and place, doing its best by doing the world as the world issues constantly from God’s creating and redeeming hand. What the liturgical assembly does is the world.

This is a frightful ministry carried on with trembling hands and a dry mouth, for the world stops being cute when told it is morbid.

In [Jesus], and according to his example and no other, the Christian assembly is obliged to do its best. It was in the doing of his own best that he laid down his life for the life of the world–not in cynical disgust or in limp passivity before the Human Problem, but for love of those who caused the Problem in the first place. His Church can do no less. — Fr. Aidan Kavanagh

“Doing the world God’s way,” this is liturgy. From lÄ“itos, “public” and ergos, “working,” liturgy is God’s public invitation for is to join His working of creating and redeeming. Liturgy is doing the world with God-with-us. In fact, we could succinctly say that Liturgy is Christ, who is God doing the world His way, with us, by sending His Spirit into the world, synthesizing our labors with His.

The liturgy is Mass, the Sacraments, the Hours. And going to church to do such things is deadly serious business, as is being Baptized, which makes you a portable and wholly unpredictable liturgy.

Liturgy is where we priestly people transact between heaven and earth, effecting with power what we agree to under oath — “Amen!” — to execute by our lives every time we pray the Our Father:

Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.

This prayer Jesus have us is an extended covenant oath, and is especially daunting when we consider that earth, shackled by the Enemy of God, is not at all happy about heaven’s full-scale invasion. Of which we, the laity, stand as the front lines.

If we go to Mass on Sunday thinking, “What can I get out of this?” — we settle at best for mild inspiration, warm feelings, pleasant fellowship and light entertainment. Consumer liturgy.

But if we go to church thinking, “How can I drag as much of the dross-laden gold of this world into the blazing Furnace of the God-Man’s heart, drenching it in Spirit, so it can be refined, prepared as worthy material for the construction an everlasting Kingdom?” — imagine the difference in approach not only to the Mass itself, but to the whole week we spend assuring heaven’s conquest in dredging up the contents of creation for up-Offering — by “doing our best.” Divine liturgy.

And, per Kavanagh’s above quote, “best” refers always to Jesus’ exemplary sacrificial death in the face of the worst the world had to offer Him, i.e. hatred, brutality, death.

A naked and dying God, gurgling out words of pardon and love, is humanity at its best.

The Orthodox priest at my Dad’s Russian church back in 1989 celebrated a 2.5 hour Divine Liturgy on a sultry summer day when the AC in the church was not working properly. His hair and beard were dripping with sweat, and he smelled ripe. Afterward, my Dad and I commented to him, with admiration, on the hardships of that celebration. He said without hesitation,

Yes, yes, I’m completely exhausted. But this is meet and right! Divine Liturgy is divine labor that overthrows the Powers and Principalities, redeems the cosmos. It’s supposed to leave me worn down. The Son of God’s liturgy left Him filthy, smelly and sweaty! But us? Clean and new.

Ah! Toiling and laboring unto exhaustion through every future liturgy, let’s give the world our very best — with God, God’s way…

 

Thrown by love

[re-post 2015]

A man must not choose his neighbor: he must take the neighbor that God sends him. The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact. ― George MacDonald

When I was studying philosophy in  the late 1980’s, I was enamored for a time with Martin Heidegger’s idea of geworfenheit, “thrown-ness,” that we each find ourselves thrust into a world not of our choosing. All of it seeming a bit arbitrary, as we are hurled at the moment of conception into a specific place and time, inheriting an unsought history, with parents, siblings, genetics, a social class, government, language and religion we were never consulted on in advance.

Though as we grow and mature we are ideally able to exercise some increasing measure of freedom and control in shaping the unfolding of our present and our future, we always discover in every new moment that most of what we face in life we are thrown into. Having to swim in the sea of geworfenheit, we must creatively respond to life from within the confines of the “hand that has been dealt to us.”

Of course, the Christian believes that the world into which we are thrown is also a world governed by the mysterious Hand of divine Providence. But even in that case, the point remains the same — whether we are confronted with a world governed by blind Fate or by all-seeing Providence, it is always true that we must face a world overwhelmingly beyond our control. Peace is found in acceptance of this iron law.

The limitless tensions that exist between freedom and necessity become the creative forces and dramatic spaces within which creation evolves and we ourselves become who God intended us to become. As Christians, we believe these harsh tensions also entwine a mystic synergy between infinite divine freedom and our finite freedom. This element of “grace” infused in nature transforms the human drama into a theodrama, and stretches the horizons of possibility to infinite lengths.

This synergy opens up space for the Resurrection of Jesus, which re-configured entirely the relationship, in the natural order, between freedom and necessity. In Christ, man is given an immediate share in the exercise of primary causality, divine freedom, in influencing the unfolding of divine Providence, and so of the course of cosmic history’s unfolding. Here is where prayer gets interesting, and frightening in its call to responsibility. And surrender.

Like the tiny butterfly in Ecuador that (unknowingly) spins up a typhoon in the Philippines by artfully flapping its delicate azure wings, so praying man in Christ co-labors the world into Resurrection by consecrating that world. How? By the free choice of a cruciform, priestly love. Why? Because all “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21).

All creation waits on us, on our Yes. On our fluttering deeds of delicate loving kindness.

Supine, prone. Not sure which to choose here.

Which takes us back to our neighbor, whom we did not choose to be near us, whom we’d rather not lay claim on our love. These nigh neighbors whom God sets alongside us to love intensely, whom we ourselves likely would never have selected had we been given opportunity, are precisely the divinely appointed opportunities we have – daily — to synergize with the God who “so loved” our wretched world. To endure the painful contractions that labor necessity into freedom: that is our primal, daily, minutely, secondly call.

So get to it. Start with the person nearest you, preferably whom you don’t like, and go from there. Love, as you are able. But more, beg for grace from the Risen One. Who awaits your Yes to join His.

Something Strange

[re-post from 2016]

“If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.” — John Wheeler, theoretical physicist

This has been my motto for many years, is what drives me to see in everything something worth exploring, reflecting on, wondering about. Every morning when I wake up, with the image of the Sacred Heart above me, I look at Jesus and say, “Surprise me today.”

I pray it with some trepidation, I must admit.

The only days I am ‘disappointed’ by His response to this request are when I fail to be awake, attentive, to listen, to linger over things, even if for a moment. When I fail to be courageous enough to allow my surprise to be not in what I expected, or wished. Or when I fail to pray as I go about the day, saying to God now and again, “A world that did not have to be, but is.”

I am convinced prayer is really the act of allowing the strangeness of God to invade our souls.

Victory, tragedy, joy, sorrow, puzzlement, clarity, stress, calm, life, death. Shot through with divine providence. Strange! All of these, and infinitely more, are pregnant with the same volatile dynamism that fuels the birth and the death of a star, or of a child. The universe roils, boils, toils, organizes and slides into entropy, oscillates between order and chaos, comes into being and passes away. Wild, untamed, inexorable.

….On the Cross, axis of the Strange, is where the whole of time-space, its laws and matter, converge on the heart of the Creator-Redeemer in an infinite moment of absolute singularity. In the Word of the Cross, all of creation is re-inscribed, transformed, re-created and re-established on a new ground, on a radically new principle of order: agape, caritas, divine-human love. The first creation aspired toward this ordering principle as its vocation, the new creation respires with this principle as its perfection. Perfected by God-Man who, on the Cross, loved “to the end.”

In the Resurrection of the Crucified, that new principle of order is given its initial and eternally progressive genesis, the Church being its vital seeds, cast lavishly from the Tree of the Cross. Planted in earth’s ancient soil, we are the new creation germinating and re-creating this world from within. Subversively. Dangerously. One revolutionary act of love at a time.

Which makes everything, without exception, always something strange. Wonderfully strange. When and where love is.

[I somehow thought of this post after using this video in my Foundations of Theology class last week:]