May 2007 Archives

I was pleased to read this in the preface to Jesus of Nazareth by our Pope Benedict XVI.

from Jesus of Nazareth
Pope Benedict XVI

. . . The first point is that the historical-critical method--specifically because of the intrinsic nature of theology and faith--is and remains an indispensable dimension of exegetical work. For it is of the very essence of biblical faith to be about real historical events. It does not tell stories symbolizing suprahistorical truths, but is based on history, history that took place here on this earth. The factum historicum (historical fact) is not an interchangeable symbolic cipher for biblical faith, but the foundation on which it stands: Et incarnatus est--when we say these words, we acknowledge God's actual entry into real history. . . .

The method is a fundamental dimension of exegesis, but it does not exhaust the interpretive task for someone who sees the biblical writings as a single corpus of Holy Scripture inspired by God. . . .

We have to keep in mind the limit of all efforts to know the past: We can never go beyond the domain of hypothesis, because we esimply cannot bring the past into the present. To be sure, some hypotheses enjoy a high degree of certainty, but overall we need to remain conscious of the limit of our certainties. . .

Indeed, . . .some thirty years ago led American scholar to develop the project of "canonical exegesis." The aim of this exegesis is to read individual texts within the totality of one Scripture, which then sheds new light on all the individual texts.

Methods go only so far as the intrinsic limitations can carry you. It is impossible to examine the infinite with anything less than the infinite; however, when looked at from a great diversity of view points, the Infinite comes more clearly into focus than the view of any one school can possibly allow.

I don't do exegesis as such, but every time I pick up the Bible, I recall that it is the passionate narrative of God's love for all of His people. There are certainly themes and variations, but it is the constant, underlying strain of love that guides my reading of any biblical text. God is present and God is telling you that He loves you. Strain to hear this and you cannot go wrong in reading the Scriptures.

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It's fascinating that the first time the wandering of the People of Israel in the Sinai peninsula is discuss, it is related as follows:

Exodus 16:1

And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.

And it was for some forty years that they wandered in the wilderness of sin. So long that the first generation out of Egypt did not survive to enter the promised land--not even Moses.

Now, we did the Lord rescue a people from Egypt only to send them through a raging desert for forty years and not save a great many who took flight? Why would He act in so perverse a fashion as to half-save a group of people.

The reality is that the people of Israel wandered in that desert because almost as soon as the pillar of cloud and fire vanished, they began to complain and wonder why they had ever left Egypt. They were so confused about what they wanted that they could not have followed God even if He has shown up in person (as, indeed, He did in the person of Moses--not incarnated, but spirit-led).

How similar can I be to this stubborn people. God points the way and I wonder how to find the bar, the brothel, the gambling parlor, the restaurant. What kind of place is He sending us to that doesn't have these minimum niceties of a civilized society?

The chief desire of every person is to find the way home, but sometimes that desire for the comforts of home becomes misdirected into a desire for comforts. The transient and beautiful things of this world look very good to us. They seem to be the comforts of home. But they are mere ghosts of those real things. The realities in the vault that Plato spoke of cast these earthly shadows and so deceive those so ready to be deceived.

I count myself among them: lured by the good things of the world, I am too long diverted from the real Good One. I seek my comfort in those things I can hold and so manage to ignore the fact that I am being held, loved, cared for intensely by the God who loves me.

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Scary Matters of the Spirit


Free will can be a bummer.

Yep. Why doesn't God just wrap us up in bubblewrap and carry us home to be with Him. But the reality is that Love lets one make mistakes. I don't know why it does this--perhaps to prove our own reciprocal love when one returns home with tail tucked between legs; perhaps because that is the only way to learn to love.

Love is agony and sin is so easy because it helps to ease the pain of Love. Love takes endurance and sin takes a short-cut to what one thinks one wants. Thomas Aquinas (I paraphrase here) quite rightly says that the even the sinner is acting on a perceived good. Desire, which points the direction home, often leads us through brambles, briars, swampy tangles, and deserts of self. What looks like a short-cut is a convoluted, involved, messy trail of heartache, sorrow, and self-involvement. All, often, in the name of love. Contra Nietzsche, Christianity is not for the weak following the weak, because love, particularly love in the world he helped to forge, can be horrendously difficult.

But the name of love, the real name, the name whispered through centuries and shouted in Heaven--the real name of love is Jesus. And any action of desire that leads in any other direction is, at best, a fault, and often a sin. Many are so tangled in their sins that they cannot see the way home. This was brought to mind the other day when I read at TSO's about a bunch of Democrat politicians who were castigating the Pope because he dare say that they had excommunicated themselves. They have chosen their way and cannot see.

But they are merely a mirror for me and in that reflection I can see my own waywardness, the standards I insist upon, and if me, then I suspect a great many sinners who do not take the time to look inside and see what has gone wrong.

This is the reason Jesus was always so compassionate toward sinners--"They are like sheep without a shepherd," "Then know not what they do." How true is that of people today? How true is that of me? Do I really see what it is I choose when I make a choice. Do I pause even for a moment in my headlong plunge to destruction?

Oh, how I would pray for the bubble-wrap of God that would preserve me and take me home exactly as God would like me to be. That bubble-wrap, that protection against evil, is the Sacrifice of His Son and it is the outpouring of Love of Father and son that dwells within. Oh, but the glass around that lantern, around that inner fire is begrimed and filthy, darkened by all the ways I have chosen less than the best. But my longing, periodically restored, is that the glass be so cleaned that while it is not the light, it does not interfere with the light's transmission and even participates in the light, becoming light as it allows God's brilliant inner stream to light it up completely.

This is not a fairy tale, but a covenant made in blood. It is not an abstract ideal, but the pervasive and fundamental reality of our faith. God will restore me if only I will turn to Him and say, "Please help." Or, in the words of Brother Lawrence, "See what happens to me if I stray but a little way. Be with me, O Lord."

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Reading List


Not that it matters, but look for reviews here in the near future of Pope Benedict XVI's new book on Jesus and perhaps a couple of mysteries--one hard-boiled in the manner of James M. Cain, the other a historical from the time of the stripping of the Altars in England.

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist


Despite the cover sound-byte from Philip Pullman, Mohsin Hamid's newest book is well worth the attention of anyone interested in good writing.

It is unique: I can think of nothing to compare it to. However, some of its thematic elements are distantly related to V.S. Naipal's A Bend in the River and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness to which there is a direct reference in the text.

The story is told as a first person narration of the main character, Changez to an unnamed American who is visiting Pakistan for reasons unknown. As the narration unfolds we learn that Changez came to the United States to attend Princeton. Upon graduating he lands an really fine job with a very exclusive firm and an American girlfriend. And then--9/11, a date that substantially translates Changez's notion of who he is.

The story is deeply personal and highly involving. The language is simple, a long loop of narration that makes one wonder if the man ever shuts up--there is patter for everything--and yet, even so, one does not wish for him to be quiet. The story reveals the core of nationalistic feelings that we sometimes don't even know we have and it shows in quite a different light our own feelings and actions in the present day. Not necessarily so much an indictment, but a personal view, the book is likely to anger some. For me, it was a window into a world I have never even thought about.

And most interesting of all, is the "fundamentalism" of the book. I dare not say more because it would deprive you of one of the pleasure and one of the essential themes of the work--the dual "heart of darkness" at work in the narrative.

For those interested in good writing, a compelling story, and insight into one view of what happened 9/11 and subsequently, I couldn't recommend a better, faster read.

Highly recommended for all.

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Despite the awkwardness and Jabez-like overtones of the title, this new book by Anthony DeStefano (who also wrote a superb little book titled A Travel Guide to Heaven) is a useful reminder of who we are in Christ.

I know I'm late to the party reviewing this, and I probably have nothing to add that you haven't already heard except, perhaps, I found enough of this book provocative that I ended up quoting small sections of it at a recent day of reflection talk I gave about St. Therese of Lisieux.

Ostensibly written for those still seeking or perhaps a bit green in the faith, there is much inthis book for every Christian regardless of his or her vintage. There are reminders here of truths that we live but often do not sufficiently articulate--therefore truths that are often lost on us.

In a bid at crossing the ecumenical divide, Mr. DeStefano does not quote rafts of passages from the Church Fathers, nor does he cite anything outside of biblical sources, although without doubt he could have done so easily. Indeed, his short reading list is crammed full of Catholic writers from Aquinas to de Caussade, and every source he sites, from Randy Alcorn to E. M. Bounds to Dwight Moody is worthy of the attention that he gives it.

This is the book for the young in faith and for those who need to be reminded of the many things they have forgotten or do not consider often enough. It is a superb, small, readable book with great rewards for every reader.

Highly recommended for all readers and as a gift to persons ambivalent about the Catholic Faith. No question that upon reading this they might be more ready to recognize Catholics as true brothers and sisters in faith.

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Back from Jacksonville

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Should have posted this Friday when it happened.

Sam, Ladywife and I took a trip to Jacksonville, the University of North Florida, to be exact, to attend the All-State music competition. We drove up Thursday and came back Friday at about 10:30 am after he had completed his part of the "trial."

We left without knowing how he did, and we may never know how he did. And, in fact, that is fine. What the competition allowed him was a larger audience than his usual two. And we are less interested in competition qua competition than in competition as a way of having a good time in front of a broad audience of listeners.

Upon returning Samuel was inspired and has been composing his own short melodies on piano. I'm really excited to see what the stimulation of an audience can do to the creative faculties. This is, by far, the most important part of the competition for us.

Near future--Royal Conservatory judging and then dance recital. Conservatory judging should be fairly easy, although it requires things I never learned (what is the minor key relative to C major, playing several different minor and major scales, and other such things). What really matters is that it is a real pleasure to listen to Samuel as he "gets" a piece. The initial tink-tink-tinkling on the keyboard, and then, as he has a sense of the piece, the integration of his own expression of the piece in terms of dynamics and some quality that I can't name that is greater than merely playing the notes. There is, somehow, an expression or feeling that I know I never had when playing my instrument. (But then what would you expect of a person who shares the instrumental choice of Squidward Tentacles?

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Books, We Have Books

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In the past week, I've received four books, two of which I intend to discuss here without further amplification, two of which I hope to write more extensive reviews of.

The first of those that I will not belabor is a biography of Mother Angelica called, appropriately enough, Mother Angelica by Raymond Arroyo. Mr. Arroyo might be considered Mother Angelica's foremost proponent, supporter, and friend. He prepared a book I reviewed earlier of her sayings, and from my point of view, that way by far the more interesting book--a purely subjective judgment. There is nothing wrong with the style or writing of Mr. Arroyo's book, nor is there anything intrinsically wrong with the subject. When I have more time, I may return to it. However, Mother Angelica simply does not captivate me the way she does some of those who admire her. I have for her a certain amount of admiration and respect, but, unfortunately, no real interest, so a biography is lost on me.

Even so, I dipped in at a few places and found some fascinating details about goings-on in EWTN world as well as information about Mother Angelica's early life.

If you are an admirer of Mother Angelica, you'll probably find this book to your taste. And now that it is in a paperback edition, you'll probably also find it within your budget.

The second book that I'll touch on briefly is by a person whose writing I would like to like more--Scott Hahn. He has produced another opus Reasons to Believe, written in his characteristically irritating evangelical preacher/motivational speaker patois. As with all books by Scott Hahn, it is packed with useful information if you're interested in apologetics or even in simply understanding your own faith better. It is peppered with the personal, which makes it accessible and acceptable reading. Even so, it is thoroughly documented and clearly annotated. There is a wealth of information for those who have an easier time with his prose than I do. Having had my share of the evangelical set, I'm not particularly enchanted with its arrival in Catholic prose; however, once again that is a completely subjective view and does not reflect in any way on Mr. Hahn's ability to clearly express central truths of our Faith. My chief difficulty comes not from the main body of the argument, but from the titles that are pithy, catchy, motivational-speaker types of mnemonics that drive me to distraction: "The Mass of Evidence," "You Have the Rite to Remain Repentant." "Soar All Over." That said, there are far fewer of them in this book than in previous and I have high hopes of being able to place the blinders on sufficiently to get through the rest of it. When he's not making bad puns as part of his patter, the prose is clear, convincingly argued and well-supported.

Two books that I hope to have more to say about later in the week: Anthony DeStefano's Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, which, despite its title, is NOT a Catholic version of "The Prayer of Jabez." Also Frank J. Tipler's The Physics of Christianity. I can't tell you how excited I was to receive this latter--I had read some time ago Tipler's The Physics of Immortality and came away somewhat perplexed and feeling like I should have paid more attention SOMEWHERE in school, but I wasn't precisely sure where. However, the main thrust of the book was utterly fascinating.

Below I include a short, intriguing excerpt from the new book because I think it expresses so well my own thoughts about this very subject:

from The Physics of Christianity
Frank J. Tipler

[After a discussion of an electron as a "quantized, relativistic, fermion field, Mr. Tipler continues:]

Similarly, everyone has an image of "God," but to really understand what God really is and how He could interact with the universe, one must use a theory beyond everyday commonsense physics. Contrary to what many physicists have claimed in the popular press, we have had a Theory of Everything for about thirty years. Most physicists dislike this Theory of Everything because it requires the universe to begin in a singularity. That is, they dislike it because the theory is consistent only if God exists, and most contemporary scientists are atheists. They don't want God to exist, and if keeping God out of science requires rejecting physical laws, well, so be it.

My approach to reality is different. I believe that we have to accept the implications of physical law, whatever these implications are. If they imply the existence of God, well then, God exists.

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Please e-mail me. The address I have on file does not work any more.


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A Dream


that needs recording.

I am in a large field with some friends, most of them in Edwardian gowns (yes, they're female). I tell Sam that we need some water. He goes off and comes back and says that he dug in the ground and some water came out, and he has about half a bucket full. I tell him to dig a channel toward us and the water will flow out and he won't have to carry it in buckets. He does so with a hoe-like implement with a triangular head. As he does it, we see the water forming a river, literally tumbling and pouring out.

As we approach the source of the spring, there is suddenly a white pavillion and pool. The pool is shaped like two eights crossed at the center, to give a kind of circular cruciform appearance.

I remember voluminous weeping in awe and wonder.

As I tend to pay attention to dreams--they say something at least about what's going on inside one's head, this one seemed notable and interesting.

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Desk Set

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It is, perhaps, a sad state of affairs when I am reduced to describing my environment at work, and yet it is a sort of paean. In a matter of days I shall relocate in my building and not take all of this marvelous stuff. More than that, it amuses me to do so this morning, and there is the side benefit that I am writing.

I have the walls of my office environment plastered with imagery of some of my favorite things. But right now, I'm going to focus attention on the wall I most often see, let's call it "the calendar" wall. On it there are four different calendars, two showing dates, two outdated, but with favorite imagery, so hung so that the date does not show. Between these phalanxes of calendars is a reproduction of an 18th century map of St. Augustine.

The two calendars nearest me are "live." And I actually wrote this for the one I will describe in a moment. The second calendar in line is my annual "Surfing" or "Waves" calendar. It is surfing this year, and since surfing involves waves, the focus is, of course the water. The month of May shows a huge wave, looks bigger than pipeline, smaller than Waimea, with a surfer "in flight" out of the curl behind him. Gorgeous.

The first calendar, the jewel in the crown, was a Christmas gift from Samuel. It's called "Nuns Having Fun" and features black and white pictures of Nuns in recreational activities. Last month had nuns in traditional habits with those sort of large "winged" hats--six of them--crammed into a small car traveling somewhere with the caption--"Okay, so who forgot the St. Christopher statue." This month is equally delightful, a young nun on a rope and wood plank swing at the forward height of arc. It's caption, of course, "Nearer, my God, to Thee."

There is something innocent, charming, and ultimately elevating about these simple pictures. When I'm feeling a little down at work, I look at this calendar and it is an immediate perk-up.

The other two calendars are from favorite venues. One is a Mount Vernon calendar, this month showing a view of the windows in the great hall--banquet/guest area. The other is a calendar of views from Williamsburg showing a small house with brick chimney and some gorgeous flowers in the front garden.

Which, in this rambling, stream of consciousness post, reminds me that were it not for the need for focusing on Samuel's dance classes, we would be traveling shortly to Jamestown for the four-hundredth anniversary of the landing of the Susan B. Constant on what was to become known as Jamestown Island. This even occurs on Samuel's Birthday and the Queen shall be there to celebrate. All of which is made so much more meaningful to me by the fact that I have been able to find three ancestors in that original colony (actually probably from the secondary landings, I've been too lazy to really research it), one of those ancestors was the famous John Rolfe himself.

Ah well, have rambled enough. Hope I can ramble my way into something sensible next time.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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