The Love of Thousands

Yes, that. A friend sent me that, and then I wrote this…

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We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now. — Rom. 8:22

The universe has labored in agony for over fourteen+ billion years to give birth a hospitable star and planet suitable for life. The earth took shape over four+ billion years, and life has slowly evolved over three+ billion years. Preparing the way for my life were the endless cycles of cosmic birth and death, violence and suffering, chaos resolving into order; and a hundred thousand years of human genealogy, of the struggle to survive and thrive, to build civilizations and make culture, to search for God and one another amidst the ruins of Eden.

Their gift is my inheritance.

I still remember the episode of Cosmos when Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff.” And I remember the strange feeling of being grateful to the stars for spending themselves for me.

“This is my body which will be given up for you” is written into the very structure of existence.

This grand cosmic and bio-history is my litany of gratitude, which my lifetime will not be sufficient to exhaust. I give glory to God by being grateful for the laboring agony of creation, of life, of humanity, of my ancestors who have given me the opportunity to be, and to do the same.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. — Meister Eckhart

Creation playing to an empty house: Never!

Photo my wife took while I was watching the sunset

We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. — Annie Dillard

Not unlike many people who were children before the age of smartphones, my very first memories are connected with noticing things in nature that seemed to the adults around me hidden or unimportant — things like ants, bees, spiders, mites, butterfly eggs, tadpoles, damselflies, or the wildly complex ecosystems hidden under rocks and logs. My dad used to love to remind me that, when I was two or three years old, I would spend countless hours sitting beside ant mounds, transfixed in rapt silence. I do remember vividly, in fact, how I took the greatest pleasure in noticing the work each ant did in the colony, excavating grains of sand, dragging in freshly killed insects, or guarding the mound entrance from intruders.

I had (and retain) a deep seated drive to discover and rejoice in things that, I imagined, no one would ever notice if I didn’t. In each moment, it always seemed to me, there were a thousand million things around to notice, each more fascinating than the other. Never to pass this away ever again. So, until I lost this awareness in my teens, I never ever once remember being bored.

I also recall as a child hearing Matthew 10:29 read aloud at Mass, and thinking: that is my place in the world, my place with God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

May I be never apart from the God notices, too. The God who notices, and who loves.

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O Ruler and Lover of souls,
for your imperishable Spirit is in all things! — Wisdom 11:24-12:1

Yesterday I was out at the beach with my family, and I waded out a few hundred yards into the shallow Gulf waters. In the silence of that vast space, I was unexpectedly overcome by prayer. More specifically, I was overwhelmed by an intense awareness that, as a priest of nature and of grace, it was my dignified office in that moment to look at creation with God’s delight and joy, and give voice to creation’s grateful delight and joy in God. Created God’s image, humanity alone on earth can offer logikēn latreian, “rational worship” (Rom. 21:1) to God on behalf of every non-rational creature. We alone can say to the Father, “Thank you for calling us from non-existence into being!”

Like a crazy man I shouted into the sky, over the waters — with fish literally jumping out of the water all around me! — a line from the Catechism (#1047) that I have memorized because of its mind-blowing beauty:

The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just, sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.

Surrounded by a horizon-less sea, I sensed so clearly that all is sheer gift, none of it is my possession. The universe, my body and soul, my family on the beach. All of it must be (and will be!) returned to God. But my calling is to do that in an act of absolute submission, with thanksgiving and praise, in trust, out of a non-possessive humility that acknowledges in every moment: existence is never deserved, only to be gratefully received and gratefully returned.

Only in returning all, letting go in a quite absolute way, can I receive all back. For only then is all no longer a possession, but all is gift.

I saw a dead horseshoe crab floating by me, and thought:

Death opens out into life only when it is offered Up in an act of grateful return, of non-possessive surrender to the Father from whom all blessings flow. This is what makes the death of Christ the consummate act of creation. His death on the cross is the only final and perfect return of all to the Father. And the Resurrection is the Father’s response to Christ’s priestly return. This is why the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the fulcrum for our priestly service to all creation through, with and in Him.

So please, please, never be bored! For around you is a world that did not have to be, but is. A world that awaits your noticing, your rapt attention, your lifted voice, your bodily offering in creation’s name to its Maker, singing a new song of praise and blessing, of thanksgiving and joyful worship.

Look around you! The world is ablaze in divine fire! You only need stop, be silent, and notice that you are being Noticed.

Pope Francis gets all this so well:

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.

Willing to say more than we can be

As theologians, we must say more than we can be, in the hope that others will make us more than we are. What is crucial is that we not write to justify the limits of our lives. — Stanley Hauerwas

Last Fall, I once told my students in a class I taught on prayer, “This class terrifies me, because I resemble little of it but aspire to all of it.”

This is the terrible beauty of teaching, writing and witnessing to our Faith: even as we give voice to its grand vision of life’s meaning and purpose, we find ourselves simultaneously judged before its impossibly high standards and lifted up by its exalted vision of who God wills us to be. Faith exposes us as both frauds and exemplars, as simul justus et peccator, “at once justified and a sinner.” St. Paul, Apostle to the Nations, expressed this tension wonderfully:

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

One of my sons said to me recently, after we had spent over an hour talking about the heroism required to live Catholic sexual ethics in our culture, “Dad, is there anything the church teaches that you just don’t buy?” What an excellent and poignant question! It took us another hour to unpack. Though he and I have had many conversations about the reasonableness faith over the years, this was the most direct and personal question he had ever asked.

My answer was predictably a “yes and no,” with a mix of raw honesty and attempted nuance. We talked about squaring the depravity of clerical scandals with authoritative moral teaching, and then I shared my version of the Catholic “take” on the dialectics of faith and doubt, assent and dissent, as well as Catholicism’s use of philosophy as a way to submit faith’s claims to hard rational inquiry. We also talked about the role of prayer in exploring these questions. I said,

You can’t think your way into faith. Just as science demands observation, measurement, experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses in its empirical method, so faith demands a willingness to engage in a “contemplative method” that’s open to God acting directly in the mind and opening it to His mystery.

[He asked, “Why?”] Because faith, even though it’s open to reason’s hardest questions, is in the end a gift that God must give — because faith admits you into the deepest mystery of God, which is beyond all empirical scrutiny. Augustine says, “I believe so that I may understand.” Faith as a relationship requires an act of trust in the other first. Only with trust can you be granted access to the other person’s inner mystery, and prayer is access granted.

What made the conversation both terrifying and exhilarating for me was that it was my son who asked this. I had spent the previous 21 years, with my wife and many others, trying to create an environment in which he — and our other children — could experience the color, texture, sound, smell and taste of a world informed by faith. A space where his emotions, imagination, intellect and freedom could grow into a free assent to Jesus Christ as the definitive meaning of all existence.

But now my son was, in effect, asking me: “Okay so, this world you created for me — Do you really believe it yourself? Do you ever doubt it? How do you reconcile it with the many other worlds out there?” We had taught our children that faith is to be fearless, that truth is one, and that the same God authored the mind and faith. So this conversation was exactly what I had always hoped for. And it was scary as hell, because it forced me to look through his eyes at the “I” that claims to boldly profess, “I believe in…”

I also realized in our conversation that such an honest exchange, such a vulnerable exchange, signaled another transition I had long hoped for: from father-son to brothers, from leader-led to companions on the journey of life, from guardian-guarded to friends (John 15:15). The same child who had long ago “ripped fatherhood out of me,” who taught me how to love in a way I could never known without him, had also ripped faith out of me and taught me to believe in a way I could never have known without him. His very existence — his face, his questions, his trust, his innocence, his doubts, his struggles, his sufferings — is the voice of Jesus asking me in every moment: “Thomas, son of Edmond, do you love me?” “Who do you say that I am?”

And a little child shall lead them — Isaiah 11:6

{This final story I will share is shared with permission}

Years ago, when we lived in Brandon, Florida, a man joined the RCIA program I was in charge of at the time. He was married with three children, was baptized Catholic, but was not raised in the faith. When he explained to me why he wanted to return to his faith, he said, “My daughter is about to receive her first holy Communion, and when she asks why I don’t go to church, I really don’t know what to say.” He went on to say, “But just last week, she asked me with the most sincere expression, ‘Daddy, do you love Jesus?’ I was frozen and just left the room. I told my wife later, I need to give her what she wants from me. And so that’s why I am here. I want to have faith for her.”

Just before his first Confession, he met with me to discuss his journey of faith over the last 8 months. Among many things, he said, “The best part has been that I came in to find faith for my daughter, but now found it for myself.”

As parents — like all Christians who risk giving public witness to personal faith — we must always be willing to say more than we can be, in the hope that others will make us more than we are. What is crucial is that we not simply live so as to justify the limits of our lives.

“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.

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:]

 

“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5)

youwall.com

Another Easter meditation.

Last Monday I shared a post on the resurrection that linked Easter Sunday with the first day of creation. In Genesis, Sunday, the first day of the week, is the day God says His very first creative words, “Let there be light.” In the elegance of Latin, it’s simply “Fiat lux.” In the Gospels, Sunday is also the first day of the new creation when the Father spoke alive the corpse of Jesus. A magnificent mirror in time of what happens from all eternity in the Holy Trinity — as we say in the Creed:

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made

And through Him all things were re-made as, at the resurrection, the “Light from Light” shone into the darkness of sin and death.

Well, two things happened after I wrote my Easter Monday post that further electrified my imagination. First, as I was praying that same Creed at Mass last Friday (which was the subject of last Saturday’s post), that “light” connection again resonated powerfully in me. Here’s what I wrote after Mass about the experience of praying the Creed:

And as Fr. Joe and I recited the Creed together, this stanza sprang alive:

“For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.”

“Rose again” filled me with a stunning image. A sunrise, a brilliant red-giant sun silently breaking above the color-splashed horizon. Filling the world with its own lovely, self-diffusive light. I thought, it’s the nature of the sun to give its light away. Light that illumines, heats, communicating both truth and love. It can do no other. Like the philosophical axiom, ‘bonum est diffusivum’ [the good is self-diffusive], which is the precise meaning of the biblical phrase, “God is love.”

Then I saw this clearly: self-giving light is the whole movement of the Creed. Creation ex nihilo [out of nothing], incarnation, crucifixion, burial into the darkness, resurrection, ascension, pentecost and the judgment day of the returning Christ whose glory illumines all history, revealing whether deeds were done in the light or in the light-hoarding darkness. This whole biblical/theological vision of things, so absurdly rich, makes even more clear how the phrase “in accordance with the Scriptures” means vastly more than merely proof texting biblical quotes to show where the Paschal Mystery is found in the Old Testament. The Paschal Mystery is absolutely everywhere …

All I can think of right now is the solemn majesty of the Orthodox St. Vladimir seminary choir singing the Creed. As I listen, I can feel the Light streaming, softly shining on my face …

That same Friday night of the Mass I describe above, just before I went to bed, I listened to a portion of a lecture on YouTube. This one was by the Jesuit priest Fr. Robert Spitzer on the Shroud of Turin (the much studied herringbone-patterned linen cloth that has long been thought to be the burial shroud of Christ). In the last part of his lecture he made a point that floored me and I yelled aloud, “What?!” My son across the hall yelled, “You okay, Dad?” I said, “Yeah, you’ve got to hear this!”

It’s really a-ma-zing.

I queued the video here to the portion of the lecture where he makes this point:

The Shroud “negative”, front and back:

Divine ecology, writing and seed-casting

Sunset during the Willwoods Gala cocktail hour — “Tom, look, you need to get a picture of that and write a Blog on it!” I love challenges.

[Another busy week this week so probably no posts till the Triduum.]

I have no idea where this entry will go. Enjoy the ride…

Saturday night, my wife and I were invited to attend the Willwoods Sixteenth Annual Gala. Willwoods is a NOLA Catholic ministry that serves, among other things, the work of strengthening and supporting marriage and family life.

Patti and I love events like this because it’s kind of a “who’s who” in the world of NOLA Catholic culture on-the-move, with laity and clergy who invest their energy and love and faith into a unique aspect of Catholic life. Aided by an open bar, we had lots of lively conversations with a number of people, some of whom we had never met, but now are connected with — which is our favorite part. As I sat early Sunday morning reflecting on that night and the conversations we had had with quite a number of people, I began to think of the way many those people have reshaped me, my worldview, my marriage and my family’s life.

How marvelous is the interconnectedness of humanity! How astounding it is that we, as persons made for each other, are wholly defined by our relationships — for better or for ill. Many of the people I knew at the Gala I would consider people who strive for holiness, who have labored strenuously to permit God’s grace to shape their lives and, through them, influence the lives of those they interact with every day.

All of this reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a priest I know, whom I quoted in yesterday’s post. He’s a remarkable man who has an unusual depth of compassion. By that I mean that he possesses a sustained and genuine interest in entering into others’ worlds and allowing them to enter into his. Not to simply accomplish some useful goal, or as a superficial formality, but in order to allow a meaningful human relationship to emerge. It is only, he believes, within such authentic human encounters that Christ can truly enter and reveal His life-enriching glory. It is a marvel to behold the fruits of his approach in others’ lives, mine included. In fact, the most frequent comment I hear said of him is: “He is so caring.” 

Such an approach to life and ministry takes discipline, intentionality and repeated acts of patient love. It comes with a high price tag. You might say his approach lacks a certain product-oriented “efficiency” which demands many — or even most — relationships be functional and goal-oriented. But from what I have seen and heard, the resulting quality-over-quantity “product” he produces bears the sweetest and most enduring of fruits on which alone — he would argue — genuine Christian community can be built.

It certainly was Jesus’ methodology.

As we sat together eating our meatless salads on a Lenten Friday, he asked me to describe the process that goes into my writing posts for this blog. “Where do the insights come from?” Here is roughly what I said:

The vast majority of posts begin with something I read, a conversation I have, a sunset I watch, a billboard I see, an insight that appears while I pray in the waiting room of a car repair shop. Something about this or that experience I have in a particular moment sparks something in me, like a flash of light, which then somehow gets caught up, in my mind, into the matrix of Christ — with it casting light on Him or Him casting light on it.

Then I will feel compelled to jot down the essence of whatever insight I’ve had on a receipt in my wallet, or speak a voice-to-text sent to my email address, or ask my wife if she wouldn’t mind pausing our evening conversation for three minutes while I type an explosive idea I just had into my blog drafts. Bless her heart, she’s so patient with her manic husband.

I have hundreds of drafts sitting in my wordpress account, waiting for me to have time on my hands and a Muse stirring in my imagination.

The amazing thing about writing, for me, is that when these insights detonate inside and I write them, they come alive inside of me. Like, really alive. The whole of my perspective is altered, shifted, expanded, troubled, deepened, stretched, inhabited by something new, something living, something vital that, once released into my thought-world, continues to work on everything I see and do and hear and touch and taste and reflect on and love and pray.

It’s like the ideas I get are living, not simply dead facts or bits of data added to a mental fact sheet. They trouble the waters of my mind until everything else adjusts to their presence. Which is why I love the song, “Wade in the Water,” which captures the “feel” of what goes on inside me as I theologically reflect on some wierd thing that caught me by surprise.

But I’ve noticed that it’s really only when I take these new insights and write them in my blog, or weave them into a talk or lecture I will be giving, that they come alive and begin to reshape the way I see and experience everything. They can’t just sit there, or they vanish. It’s only when I *intend* to give them away that they seem to have the power to re-define the way I see everything. This, it seems to me, is the fundamental difference between faith and knowledge. Knowledge is information added to my worldview, while faith is information, set in motion by love, that reshapes and defines my whole worldview; becomes bit by bit the way I see everything — others, yourself, the world, God. “I believe” means “I see.”

But it’s really when I take the new knowledge into my prayer-time that, like activated charcoal, purfies and enriches and affects everything else, in a strange way, resetting the the whole mess of my inner life.

That’s really quite odd sounding, isn’t it? It sounds odd as I never articulate this. Thank you for asking the question and listening so carefully.

After I finished sharing this, he shared with me a metaphor that floored me. In brief, it went something like this (I will do grave injustice to it here trying to sum it as his phrasing was so succinct and brilliant):

The image that comes to mind as you speak is of an ecosystem, with your intellectual thought being almost like an ecology of the mind. An inner culture. Ecosystems have a certain delicate balance in which each organism adapts to its native environment and learns to cohabit with other organisms in a vital interdependence and network of life which allows all to thrive in an organic web. But when a new organism is introduced, everything gets troubled, disrupted, and needs to realign and re-adapt to the demands of the newcomer introduced. And vice versa. The ecosystem needs to adapt itself and change to move toward a new equilibrium in which everything becomes different, even if only slightly.

This seems to be what you’re describing here. What you allow into yourself, through your senses or in prayer, finds an already established inner-ecology, Tom’s unique personal ecosystem with its worldview that then trustingly yet discerningly welcomes in various new organisms, i.e. a new face, a new idea, a new smell or sight or taste; or divine life. Everything then has to adjust. And it’s all alive, as you say.

And then when you write, it’s then that you actively reorganize your ecosystem to make a fitting place for the new living principles, whatever they might be. Like dreams do at night, defragmenting and reorganizing new information, writing does for you. [Tom: Which makes me a daydream believer? Us: haha] Maybe some new things you’ve taken in have to be chewed up and digested, while others must be expelled or others embraced, while still yet others — like divine grace — well, you have to allow them to consume and digest your ideas, feelings, desires; your soul and spirit … or even the whole of you. Like the Shema commands. So when you consume the Eucharist, as St Augustine says, Christ consumes you; metabolizes you; adapts you to His divine-human ecosystem. The whole Church is this adapted ecosystem, expressed and given birth to in those real symbols of theandric [God-man] biodiversity: Christ in the Sacraments. Saints are the embodyment of the whole Church in its radical adaptation of human life to God-life. Or maybe the other way around, too, if we believe St Irenaeus. [He was speaking of the Catechism #53: “St. Irenaeus of Lyons repeatedly speaks of this divine pedagogy using the image of God and man becoming accustomed to one another: The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure”]

At the heart of your inner culture, Tom, your inner ecology — constituted by your own free act of faith — is the gift of divine love, the indwelling Spirit that is itself the womb of the ecclesial Supernatural Organism, with its own force and vitality and blows-where-it-will purposes. It gets into everything like leaven spreading resurrection through dough. All of which you welcome whenever you pray. Prayer exposes your inner ecology to that of Jesus, joins them.

So whatever enters into you throughout the day encounters not only “Tom,” but God active and living and sorting things out within you. Christ within is busy at work re-creating in you a new creation; a new Ecology; a new Garden. Holiness. Only then, through such saints, can He extend His divine-human culture and ecology into the various ecosystems around you and effect new changes in others’ lives and in the whole material world you inhabit. That’s holiness, and its progress is slow, uneven, filled with setbacks, death and rebirth.

In this line of thought, that means the Cross embodies the event of God introducing Himself into a human ecosystem that has organized itself against, and to the exclusion of, His life. While His love compels Him to risk entry and deadly rejection in our hostile ecosystem, even while He remains long enough (to the end of time!) for that living system to gradually adapt itself to His presence and organize its life around and in and with His life. The Cross is the symbol of God’s willingness to pay an immense cost in order to enter our world and achieve a symbiosis with us. Divinization by hominization. Restructuring our micro and macro cultures according to the omnipotent principle of divine-human love. Jesus. He is the ecosystem of God introduced into the ecosystems of creation, through the consent of a Virgin who welcomes God into our world. 

Something like that.

I said: “What just happened?”

We went off in stunned silence to retire for the night. He showed me where the tea was for the morning. My heart was on fire with this new metaphor. And I could not get out of my mind that night a chilling scene from the movie, Risen, that contains a dialogue between a blind woman and the Roman tribune, Clavius, who is trying to crush the new “Jesus is risen” movement. They are discussing her claim to have encountered the risen Jesus. Listen:

Hopefully in ten years I will have a better way to explain its power.