January 07, 2005

More About Detachment

Mama T is correct below when she says that detachment boils down to a right ordering of loves.

I am thinking more about it, and detachment may also be a training in the right ordering of thoughts and of ourselves in the universe. Detachment teaches us that what is "ours" is really only lent to us as we need it. "My child" is "the child who, throught the grace of God I hold in trust for Him."

Detachment teaches us to look through the surface of things and see behind them the true wonder of the fact that they exist at all, all sustained by His gentle breath and will.

Praise God now and always in the moment and in all that we do. He is truly all that is worthy of our Love and anything we love is not truly loved unless it is loved in, and for, and through Him. Perhaps that is the lesson of detachment. I rejoice in the rose not for the rose but for the rose whispers about Him who made her. I rejoice in the moment, because He is with me and within me, sustaining me and helping me see. My joy is always in the Lord. That is detachment--I learn to love as God loves because I abandon the need to own what I love, I can let it be what it truly is in Him.

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On Detachment--A Momentary Backtracking

Whenever you start to mention detachment, there is the severe risk of being misunderstood. More than that, it is a concept that takes living with and studying a long, long time before it clarifies. My present understanding is clouded by the fact that as much as I would like to lay claim to it, I am anything but detached. Nevertheless, to understand detachment it seems necessary to consider the entire corpus of work of Carmelite writers rather than taking bits and pieces out of context. While I cannot claim deep familiarity with all of the writings, I have begun to formulate a sense of what the Saints say to me in their writings and in their lives. That's another aspect of understanding that needs to be weighed together with the writings.

Many seem to think that detachment basically means deprivation. One of the first things I point out to Carmelites who are trying to learn the concept is that Lenten practices might help strengthen us toward detachment, but they resemble detachment only very distantly. For many, the Lenten practice of "giving something up" serves as a useful penance and reminder of the sacrifice made for us. However, if most are like me, a great deal of thought is lavished on what is given up. That is, we feel the occasional craving for chocolate, or cigarettes, or whatever it is that we have given up. We resist giving in, but have the promise that in another couple of weeks we can be back to normal.

While giving things up is training and strengthening the will in what detachment is about, it isn't detachment. And it has occurred to me that detachment is never an end in itself and it is a goal that is achieved by means other than seeking it. The Carmelite saints do say that you must become detached, but they never really give any clear step by step directions for going about this. The closest they come are a few aphorisms about choosing the least appealing thing, etc. In truth, as I study more, it seems that detachment grows in proportion to our devotion to God. That is that we are given the strength and the will not to be held bound by material things as we come to love God more deeply.

I shared this analogy with a correspondent:

Sometimes there is a misunderstanding about detachment that hinges on the popular use of the word. People think of it as indifference or disinterest because that is what it popularly means. But detachment isn't like that. To give you an example from the Bible of what the opposite of detachment looks like: When Jesus was transfigured Peter immediately takes in the experience and wants to create a concrete memorial to it for all time--"We'll build three tabernacles, one for you, one for Elijah, one for Moses." Jesus, of course, refuses and points out that Peter misses the point of the entire experience. In the same case what detachment would look like is Peter saying, (as he sort of does elsewhere), "Praise God and His holy name that I have been so privileged to see such a thing." There is celebration, but there isn't the need to keep everything right at your side. Detachment is knowing when to use something and when to let it go. It isn't the rejection of reality, but rather the proper love of reality.

A lot of people think that in detachment you must reject physical reality. A misreading of St. John of the Cross leads to this conclusion. And yet if you read his poetry and even the prose, all around you can see beautiful signs of his engagement with the every day.

Let me share another example that might speak of my present understanding of detachment. Say that a person woke one morning and looked out on their front lawn and saw there striding across the lawn a Sand Hill Crane family. The heart of the attached person would say, "This is beautiful, really beautiful. I need to build a cage so that I can have the cranes with me always."

The heart of the detached person would say, "Oh, Thank you Jesus for this beauty. Thank you God for all that you have given me in this." And they would watch the cranes as they strutted their majestic way across the field and to wherever they were going.

The detached person does not need to hold on to the cranes to love them and to love Him who sent them. He or she accepts the gift for the momentary grace that it is and rejoices in it. Perhaps the joy is greater because there is no need to preserve it. No photograph needs to be taken of it, etc.

Think of it this way--often when we go on a trip with our families we take our cameras and our video cameras. I have watched groups wandering through Disneyworld with Dad's eye permanently affixed to the viewfinder, to preserve forever this experience. But think how much is lost when everything has to be preserved. Yes, you go on the rides, but if you're busy filming them, do you ever really experience them? This is what attachment is like. We go through the world trying to preserve every holy feeling, every sensation of grandeur, every sign of God, photographing each instant, and thus standing outside of it.

Now consider the child who visits Disney World. Unless they are old enough to have been unduly influenced by their parents, they engage the world directly. They run from one thing to the next. They say hello to Goofy and then are off to the flying carpets. They climb the tree house and then want to go on the Jungle ride. Every moment is alive--all sensation all drive is for the present moment the experience that is right now. There is no need to preserve it forever, it will be emblazoned in that child's brain. The child analogically represents detachment. This may be part of the reason that Jesus extols these little ones and tells us that we must become like them to enter the kingdom.

I hope this extended reflection has helped to cast some light on what detachment is. I'm not claiming this is the final word--nor can I claim that this is the true and ultimate understanding of St. John of the Cross or the great Carmelite writers. It is how I understand what they say at this moment in my journey. God grant that my understanding increase, but more, that my practice of it increase beyond measure. I pray that God take away my need for the camera and allow me to experience each moment for itself, relishing Him always in His present graces.

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January 06, 2005

Via Mixolydian Mode

Listen to Pi

Mixolydian Mode

Given that it is a very straightforward rendering, it might be improved by simply allowing repeated numbers to lengthen the duration of a note to get more of a sense of rhythm and variation. But an interesting exercise.

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Advice for the Day

"Love does not look in the mirror."

Often there is cause to remember this and to remind oneself of it. St. Paul's 1 Corinthians 13 says it far, far better. But sometimes what is needed is simply the short jab of a reminder.

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Father Jim on Sherman and Torture (redux)

Without extensive editorializing this time, please see what Father Jim has to say on the matter. He speaks for many of us, but far more eloquently.

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The Day After Tomorrow

Wretched science, wretched excess, wretched Hollywood preaching, wretched plot, wretched characters.

But still and all it was nice to see Los Angeles utterly blown away by super-ultra-gigantic melding tornadic vortices.

Stupid beyond words--showing us how global warming triggers an ice age (Huh?) is six weeks or less.

Not up to the sheer comedic stupidity of that greatest of all idiotic science films Dante's Peak but still, there's enough bad science and bad preaching to provide a few good belly laughs. Somehow, I suspect that wasn't what the filmakers were aiming for, but this one will rate very highly in my hall of shame.

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Book List

Presently reading Ronald Knox The Viaduct Murder. It is listed in one of the definitive lists (the Haycraft list) as one of the great works of detective fiction. I'm not far into it at this point, however, I do have high hopes for it.

Also reading Mandelbrot's The (Mis)Behavior of Markets. I think I've made sufficiently clear my deep admiration for the mathematics of Benoit Mandelbrot; although there seems to be about him a certain air of insecurity that demands frequent mention of "my work" and "my research." I shouldn't think he would have anything to be defensive about, but perhaps the world of economics research and scholarship is more cutthroat than I realize.

I'm also alternating between Ascent to Love and a book of short essays Carmelite Prayer. These were a thoughtful and utterly unexpected gift. And they are a magnificent way to start the New Year.

On deck, as it were, are a number of birthday and Christmas gifts.

Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange (Or vice versa, can't seem to keep in mind the order of the names
Will in the World Nominated for the national book award and splendidly written study of Shakespeare's "secrets."
And a large number of books by Evelyn Waugh including 9 travel books, the Men at Arms trilogy, Black Mischief, Scoop, and The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfoil Waugh is, however, best taken in very small doses. I do have on my list for purchase as soon as it comes available a dual biography--Ronald Knox and Edmund Campion. (I have a copy of the Edmund Campion and remember reading it and not being terribly impressed, often having to read a single sentence seven or eight times to get the logic of the paragraph flow. I am now more used to Waugh's style and hope that the difficulty was merely unfamiliarity. Also, his biography of St. Helena is being reissued. I intend to read that as well. Waugh is perhaps my perfect counterfoil because his view of the world is so diametrically opposed to my own. I find what Waugh writes appealing, but a good deal less than hilarious most of the time. Even the "comic masterpieces" such as The Loved One do not really touch me with a sense of comedy. Perhaps it is too dark. Nevertheless, I find what he writes enormously appealing once I got over the Brideshead Revisited anomaly. Curiously unlike anything else I have read by him.

There are other books--I'm still reading in fits and starts Anna Karenina and intend to read other translations by these authors--most particularly Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov which I have heretofore found utterly impenetrable.

And so the list continues and unwinds.

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Preston and Cloud's latest collaboration lives up to their previous efforts, and as in most cases is curiously disappointing. After setting us up in the supernatural realm, as all too often in Dean Koontz, we find out that everything has a nice, neat, rational explanation.

More "problematic" is that this book is the lead-in to the next in the series featuring Pendergast, and so we are left hanging (somewhat.)

Much of my dissatisfaction may stem from the sheer oddity of Pendergast, a character who seems to be a throw-back to childhood memories of Sherlock Holmes, with his eccenctricities and little pretentious tics.

Nevertheless, I would say that it is a fine book for wasting time and better by far than much of the drivel that is published for that purpose. So, a fairly enjoyable ride if you aren't looking for plot logic or rigor or much in the way of characterization (people seem to be an assembly of tics, motions, and body parts rather than fully realized human beings). But then, there's lots of mystery and some fun to even things out.

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Human Transcendance

I really liked this passage from early on in Sr. Ruth Burrows's book.

from Ascent to Love
Sr. Ruth Burrows

John is enamoured of human transcendence. 'One single thought of man is greater than all the world; only God is worthy of it.' We are made for the infinite and degrade ourselves if we opt for less.

The whole creation compared with the inifinite being of God is nothing. All the beauty of creation compared with His beauty is sheer ugliness; all its delicate loveliness merely repulsive. Compared with the goodness of God the goodness of the entire world is rather evil. All wisdom, all human understanding beside his is pure ignorance. . . and so it is with sweetness, pleasures, riches, glory, freedom.

This is a hymn to human transcendence not a denigration of created reality. John's pathway up the mount could rightly be entitled, 'On becoming human'.

Later I shall post Sr. Ruth's view of the universality of John's doctrine. (Note, the universality of the doctrine, but not especially of the means. John's teaching on the spiritual realm (as well as Teresa's and Thérèse's) is what had made him a Doctor of the Church universal. But his means of achieving what he describes is peculiar to those pursuing the Carmelite vocation (either within the family or unknowingly on their own. One supposes that it is possible, all unknowingly to follow the via negativa outlined by John).

What is interesting here is the thought that every human thought is exalted above all creation and hence only worthy to be directed for Him who is greater than all creation. Our words have power so too our thought.

I also think it very important to point out that John thinks the created realm is very good indeed. He acknowledges throughout this short passage all the beauty and glory of creation and then moves on to say, nevertheless, these are less than dust compared to the creator of beauty and loveliness.

When we think about the created realm, that is the proper order of thoughts. Not good and evil (although evil does exist and should be acknowledged) but rather in the normal course, the proper ordering of goods. Detachment, in Carmelite thinking is "choosing the better part," or the greatest good. It isn't about rejecting the goodness of creation but more thoroughly embracing it in the embrace of the greatest Good--the God who loves us.

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January 05, 2005

Strait is the Gate and Narrow is the Way

As I was writing the previous post another thought occurred to me and nearly derailed the intent and writing of that post.

As you all know, I love fractals. I play with fractals. I visit the fractal world on every occasion I can set aside to do so. If you get a chance, google "Mandelbrot Set" and see if you can find one of the many sites on which you can play with the set.

The Mandelbrot set is the plotting in a complex mathematical plane of a certain set of functions. The black portion of the plotting are the members of the set--in the infinite space of the coordinate plane, an extremely narrow, confined, limited purview. Think of this as the strait gate.

Now, if you have a "microscope" for viewing fractals and you begin to look very very closely at something like the Mandelbrot set, particularly around the edges, you'll discover an infinite number of self-similar and self-affine copies of the set. That is, the larger image shows up over and over again in the smaller. But even more interestingly, as you focus on the edges, you enter, depending on the area you are looking at unique worlds of shapes. Every space on the set is part of the set and similar to all areas, and yet every area on the set has its own magical uniqueness.

Analogically, Jesus' "narrow way" and "strait gate" that lead to salvation is the "Mandelbrot set." You must belong to the set, be a member of the set to make it to salvation. However, everyone is a unique member of that set and the place that we find ourselves is a unique environment in that set. ("We are many members but all one body.") That narrow way is, in fact, infinite in its complexity and diversity and beauty.

I know this is a difficult analogy to follow, but it is so beautiful because it touches on some many aspects of our lives. Yes, the paths we can choose that lead to destruction are many and varied--infinite in themselves, and curiously, not terribly interesting. The real interest in the world of existence comes as you approach the Body, the Kingdom, as defined by the edges of the set. As you move closer and closer and actually join the set, you find the infinite world of salvation and glory of the Lord, majestic, beautiful beyond words and specially, individually tailored for each one of us.

Who knew how thankful I would grow to be for higher math?

Later: You can go here and try the parameters X min, max (-0.7, -0.5) Y min, max (-0.7, -0.5) for starters just to get a glimpse of what the world of fractals is like. If your computer is java-friendly this site has a clickable Mandelbrot set explorer applet. For those disinclined to exploration this site has a few images that give you the general idea.

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One View of Carmel

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

The Order of Carmel stands for the mystical. Everything in its teaching and way of life as established by St. Teresa is directed precisely towards this. A full flowering of the mystical life and the Christian life are one and the same thing. The culmination, perfection, fulfilment of the Christian life--'all that the Lord has promised'-- is, in our special terminology, the mystical marriage or the transforming union. The ascent of Mount Carmel is but the fulness of the Christian life, which is synonymous with the fulness of human being. There are not two vocations, one to human fulfilment and the other, if we are special and privileged, to Christian fulfilment. There is only one fulfilment to be achieved either in this world or the next, that which we call mystical marriage or transforming union.

This is essentially what Carmel means to me. It is a view of human life translated into a definite purpose and aim. Climbing a mountain to meet God? Yes. But the mountain itself is God and he cannot be scaled by merely human endeavour. What Carmel does is to disengage the bare components of the human vocation, what is really involved in being human, and tries to live them in an absolute, naked sort of way. So convinced am I that Carmel is nothing other than a living out in a stark manner what is the very essence of the human vocation that, were I to come across any practice, ideal, principle, which has not its correlative in life 'outside' it would be jettisoned as unauthentic. There is a distinction between living Carmel and living in Carmel, just as there is between being a Christian and practising the Christian religion. It is the former that matters, and the later is useless unless it leads to the primary goal.

That is one very clear, very succinctly stated view of what it means to be a Carmelite. And, I think from my brief experience of it, largely true. Living Carmel is more important than being a Carmelite. As with any vocation it is a matter of growing into it.

Carmel's vocation is a unique statement of the universal vocation. We are not all called to achieve this end in the same way, but we are all called to achieve the end defined in Carmelite terms as "mystical marriage or transforming union." The way one goes about arriving at this end is unique to the individual. Some have been so fortunate as to be called to a certain rule and rigor--the path is, more or less, laid out for them. But even within a vocation the paths vary depending upon the individual. This must be so because Saints are not carbon copies of one another. There is only one St. Francis even though the saints among the followers of his way are innumerable. So too with St. Dominic, St. Teresa, and any other saint. While the rule may be clear, within that rule is a magnificent wideness that allows for us to be precisely whom Jesus calls us to be. Those without a vocation in a rule still have the universal vocation to holiness and to growing into God. Frankly, I don't remember what it was like to live that way outside of Carmel. Even though I have not attained even a good standard discipline (never mind perfection) in obedience to the rule that governs my life; nevertheless, it is always there and always a significant part of what I do and think, and God willing, through time, I'll become a better exemplar of it.

But the point or end of life is the same for all. Carmelites call it the Ascent of Mount Carmel, the Mystical or Spiritual Marriage, the Transforming Union, or any number of other things. But it is very simply stated in the words of our Lord, "I must decrease so the He might increase." This is the Christian vocation. We must become less ourselves so, paradoxically, we can be fully ourselves in Him. The only identity we have is in Christ and so long as we try to define ourselves, we are failing to find out who we are. The entire point of all Christian living is to love God and to achieve the personhood God has set aside for us by joining Him. This will happen to everyone who follows Him faithfully--as Sr. Ruth says above, either in this life or in the life to come.

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January 04, 2005

News from Franklin

Katherine had her baby this morning at about 11 O'Clock. He is, as yet, unnamed, but they are very happy to receive him into their home. Praise God for a swift birth and a healthy baby.

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On-Line Catholic Bible Commentary

TSO noted that this Catholic Commenatry on the Bible was available online. I don't know what Questia is, but if it is open to all, this is a wonderful resource.

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Little Flower/Mighty Oak

I was at Disputations perusing this thread when an utterly trivial botanical analogy took form in my mind.

You are all aware that an oak tree is an angiosperm--a flowering plant. An angiosperm is defined by the fact that the flowers are the reproductive organs of the plant and the seeds are usually enclosed in some form of protective covering--for example a fruit.

How many people have seen the flowers of the oak? Unless one is a botanist or took botany courses or is extremely observant, I would suspect that most people overlook oak tree flowers. An oak has tiny, indistinguishable little flowers called catkins. Unless you are trained, you probably don't even see them.

So I thought about St. Thérèse, the "Little Flower." Indeed, the smallest of flowers (or close to it). In looking for her flower, you miss the fact that they are merely the smallest part of an enormous edifice. The LIttle Flower is the hidden face of the mighty Oak.

This is productive in many ways because we can see St. Thérèse herself as that tower of strength, but we can see her, somewhat like the Blessed Virgin, always drawing attention to the Mighty Oak of which she is an integral part. And we can also recall that these little flowers give rise to innumerable seeds that each has the potential to become a mighty oak.

So, St Thérèse of Lisieux--Little Flower/Mighty Oak--a Saint whose little way is the path straight through the Forest to its Heart, Jesus.

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The Gracious Art of Detachment

I stumbled across this passage in a new book obtained from Amazon the other day.

from Ascent to Love: The Spiritual Teaching of St. John of the Cross
Ruth Burrows

We have an innate drive to seek our own perfection with the dimensions of what we understand and consciously experience. We think we know what we need for our well-being and happiness and demand this of life. This is very marked today when greater opportunities are available. We say we must feel fulfilled, that we have a right to this or that because we need it for our fulfilment. We must not be diminished or feel frustrated in our desires. But the truth is that we do not know what human fulfilment is. We can neither conceive of it nor the path to it except in Jesus and him crucified. To seek what we think is fulfilment, making it our sole aim and subordinating other people and things to our own needs is to lose our way. We must allow God to bring us to the fulfillment he has made us for, by a way that is infallible because it is his way for us. We must be brought to dispossession, emptiness, formlessness. A dreadful prospect? Does not this spell death to a human being? Paradoxically, no, it is the other side of the plenitude of life. It is to enter into him who is all, to be filled by the all.

The detached heart has a far greater joy and comfort in created realities, for to treat them possessively is to lose all joy in them. . . . The whole created world is illumined and seen for what it is in a way the selfish heart can never know. The unselfish heart alone knows the joy of pure love for others. The more another is loved, the more God is loved.

In the past, I have written of detachment and sometimes I have to keep a clear focus on the fact that detachment is not an end in itself, but a means to the only End worthy of consideration. But here, for me, there was a breath of the truth, another confirmation of what I know instinctively. Detachment is not the rejection of created things, but the proper valuing of created things in subordination to the love of the Creator of All. In this proper alignment of values, created things become all the more wonderful and real because we can allow them to be without having to have some sort of control over them or possession of them.

How many relationships would be healed if we stopped the endless need to impose our own will on others? How many people would come to love more and to follow Jesus more closely if they were to abandon their own ways and to take up his? In every disagreement, in every quarrel, in every negative human interaction, the predominant element is the need of one person to express him or herself through the control of another. And the one being controlled lashes out in response to this attempt at possession. But if we belong only to God, we would not have to lash out against those who would possess us because we know clearly to whom we belong.

If we seek Him in love, all other things will not fall away, but they will fall into place. He is the keystone of the arch, the anchor of the edifice. If God is at the center everything holds together. If anything else, "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world." Only in God will my soul be at rest--in Him is my hope, my salvation (in the language of the psalms). Detachment is a secondary means to an end and it is achieved by focus on the primary means--love of God above all things.

But this doesn't mean that detachment is something easy to come by and simply acted upon. It is not. It takes a grace-strengthened act of will to resist the lure of possession. From the beginning we seek to possess, because possession seems to fill the aching void within. But the only possession that really fills that void is, paradoxically, being possessed, not ourselves owning anything, but being owned, redeemed, notably His. "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm." We need to wear His insignia, His band upon our arms. In this we are enslaved to all and completely free. The words make no sense at all, and yet I think we understand the reality they express at some very deep level.

And (is it because of the fall?) every fiber of our being resists this possession. We seek to identify ourselves and make ourselves known to the world at large. But our only identity is in Christ, our only meaning in God. Outside of Him nothing we do, say, or have has any substance. The more we own, the more that owns us, and the more the gnawing, all consuming hunger drives us to acquire yet more.

Detachment which comes through Love of God and graced acts of will places us in the seat of greatest joy. We need not own anything and nothing owns us except Him who is entitled. How can this reality not appeal? How can moving closer to all and away from the nothingness of everyday desire not be the burning drive of our hearts? I don't know, but too often it is so. As for me, I pray it cease as soon as it can. I would like to say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." And I cannot so long as I am busy serving myself

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Prayers for Katherine

Whose labor started last night--she has been known to have protracted labor and I haven't heard anything yet, so please keep her in your prayers until I'm able to share with you the wonderful news of a new life! Thanks.

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January 03, 2005

Saying of the Day

I share this because it has impinged itself on my consciousness at least five or six times in the past few days. I don't offer any relevance, but seeing as it is so frequent a visitor to the untrouble mud-puddle surface of my mind, I thought I'd share:

"When evening comes, you will be examined in love." (Sayings, 60)

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For TSO--The Andrew Greeley Homily Site

Many others may be interested in reading some of the more serious work of this well-known priest. Here.

Note the following excerpt from the lengthy essay "The Apologetics of Beauty."

from "The Apologetics of Beauty"
Fr. Andrew M. Greeley

Beauty is the strongest asset of Catholicism. A number of surveys have recently indicated that the most powerful marks of Catholic identity among both the young and the old are service to the poor, the Eucharist, the presence of God in the Sacraments, and Mary the Mother of Jesus. We also have learned that frequent church attendance among Catholics correlates much more strongly with participation in both the fine and the lively arts than it does for Protestants. Liturgy, even badly done (as it usually is)opens Catholics up to the beautiful beyond the church building. When men and women return to the Church after a long time of trying to "fall away," the most important thing for them is to be able to go to Mass again. The sacraments are works of high beauty - the birth of a child, the consumption of a family meal, prayers at the bedside of the sick, the joining of the bodies and souls of two people in love, reconciliation after conflict. Small wonder that, even badly administered, they have a strong attraction for Catholics and are integral to the Catholic identity. It is the very beauty of the sacraments which disposes them to dispense grace. They give grace efficaciously because they are grace-full.

As I have said before, perhaps not here and perhaps not so clearly, I find his fiction execrable, horrendously written and burdensome, but there are moments and even long stretches of great felicity in his work on the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith.

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More on the Spirituality of the Psalms

from "The Spirituality of the Psalms" Roland E. Murphy
in Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

It would be foolhardy to claim that the spirituality of the Psalms can be appropriated by the saint, but not the sinner. These prayers are clearly the aspirations of a people that readily admitted its sinfulness, and hence are appropriate for the modern reader. However, Christian tradition emphasizes another aspect to praying the Psalms. From the time of John Cassian (fifth century) to the late Jesuit theologian, Bernard Lonergan, there is an emphasis on the subjective attitude of the reader of Scripture. Lonergan called for a "conversion" opf the interpreter in pursuing theology, inciuding the interpretation of the Word. John Cassian insisted on spiritual preparation. While his Conferences were primarily geared to the monastic life, and were the fruit of his living with the anicent monks of the desert, his views have a taste of the modern in that they reach out to experience. Abbot Nesteros urges him to read the Scriputres with the same diligence with which he pursued secular studies; then the secular will yield to the spiritual (XIV: 13). At the end of XIV:14 the abbot insists on purity of heart: "It is impossible that anyone whose soul is not pure can acquire spiritual knowledge, no matter how diligently he appplies himself in study." . . . The situation of those who read the Bible is somewhat paradoxical. On one hand, spiritual discipline is needed to prepare for the reading; on the other hand, spiritual experience accompanies and is the fruit of such reading.

Two points. This is the second time in two weeks that I have encountered the name of Lonergan in an extended nonfiction work. Were I inclined to read theology, I would think that I should pick up Lonergan at this point. However, momentary perusal of a website dedicated to a study of his philosophy reveals that I haven't the intellectual wherewithal to do so. So once again invincible ignorance triumphs.

The seond point--reading Scripture should convert the reader. I liken this to Harold Bloom's notion that a great text should read the reader as much as it is read. When Scripture "reads" me, I should stand before it convicted and converted. The reading should begin the formulation of a change. It is all a work of grace--both the reading and the change. Nevertheless, the abbot above says to apply yourself as diligently to your Biblical reading as you do to your secular. That in itself should provoke deep thought for a great many of us. How often do I read the Bible for the same or greater a length of time as I do all the many wonderful works of secular literature? Is reading Scripture a priority or is it an afterthought?

Here, in miniature is an example of what Bloom talks about. Though we're not talking a great work of literature in this small essay, the essay has "read" me and found my attitudes and ideas wanting. God delivers to an unworthy servant yet another work of grace--He leads me to such rich reading and then opens my eyes to what is being said. May He also open my heart to the change that is required.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

On the Vital Necessity of Reading Scripture

from "The Spirituality of the Psalms" Roland E. Murphy
in Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

As recently as 1970 a Roman liturgical directive recommended that Psalms 58, 83, and 109, along with certain parts of several psalms be omitted. This unconscionable censorship has led to their disappearance in "prayer" books. A very limited hermeneutic, to say the least, lies behind this move. It fails to recognize the human need to see divine justice at work, a need found in both testaments. Although the censorship is well meant, it betrays a superior and moralistic attitude, as if violence and vengeance were not part of Christian existence. Is prayer supposed to consist of pious thoughts, with no relationship to reality? The sad fact is that Christians can fail to confront the vicious reality in their lives, and remain blind to the vengeance and violence that lurk in their own hearts. These psalms should be turned against whoever prays them, challenging them concerning the violence and vengeance that mark their existence. It is ironic that such a directive could be given in the most violent of Christian centuries.

Sometime things are done "for my own good" by very well-meaning people. Often these result in no good whatsoever. I am not improved by them, and, in fact, I am significantly diminished by these actions. Fr. Murphy makes a case for that here. Sacred scripture is inspired and completely and wholly without error. Every word of it is worth our attention and reading. Some may be confusing and difficult, but every word is God's fullest revelation of Himself to His people. Too often we take scripture for granted. Those of us who run blogs and who read a great deal often do not spend much of a day reading scripture. Many are, at best, erratic and irregular in their approach to scripture. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours and daily attendance at Mass are the first line of defense and the premier remedy for our lack of connection with scripture.

But it is important to remember that scripture isn't something one occasionally refers to or partakes of. The Christian life, properly lived, should be a living, breathing reification of scriptural truth. Through the word of God each Christian is granted an "insider's" knowledge of the mind of God, insofar as it is possible for a human being to understand it. Scripture strengthens one's knowledge of God and hence gives more reason to love--it strengthens charity and it reading it bestows countless graces. This is perhaps one reason why regular prolonged reading of scripture is an indulgenced activity. According to the most recent Enchiridion of Indulgences:

While a partial indulgence is granted to those who read from
Sacred Scripture with the veneration which the divine word is
due, a PLENARY INDULGENCE is granted to those who read for at
least one half an hour.

Now, the motive in reading scripture should be something more than obtaining an indulgence, but it is interesting to note that the Church specifically indulgences prolonged reading of scripture. A indulgence is granted to encourage the faithful, and the Church evidently thinks that reading of Scripture is an important formative influence. One might assume from the nature of the indulgence that the Church sees prolonged reading of scripture as prophylactic, and perhaps even transformative.

So from Fr. Murphy's little tirade to a larger sense of scripture reading--God is gracious to us and grants us a great many ways to talk to Him. In reading scripture, if it is done in the proper spirit, with a short prayer for understanding to the Holy Spirit, the reader can be renewed, refreshed, revived, and brought closer to the Spirit of Love whose action inspired each word and whose continued action makes each word comprehensible.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:10 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 02, 2005

Carmelite Prayer

from "Carmel: A School of Prayer" by Fr. Keith J. Egan
in Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century ed. Fr. Keith J. Egan

Carmel has widely been perceived as a school of contemplative prayer, especially as the Carmelite tradition became well known through the writings of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. Carmelite prayer, it must be said, is not an esoteric or elitist tradition, despite the popular but not always accurate reputation of these two Spanish Carmelites. Contemplative prayer in the hands of Teresa and John moves toward simplicity. As Iain Matthew has written, prayer in the Carmelite mode ". . . contains an impulse toward simplicity." It is a movement that invites the Spirit of God to take over the dynamics of the heart. Graced human effort is mere preparation for prayer that truly becomes prayer when God prays within us (Rom 8:26). Contemplative prayer is not a matter of human achievement but is God's gracious gift to a heart that struggles to be free so that it may be open to and filled with divine love.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

True Dialogue with those of Other Faiths

The Church teaches that we are to engage in dialogue with other faiths. We are not to be syncretic, incorporating whatever it is we like. Nor are we to engage in wishful thinking about what other faiths truly think and believe.

However, how does one carry one a dialogue in ignorance of what other faiths believe? How can we show the path to the fullest revelation of God, if we have no notion of where a believer of another faith is with respect to God?

I've always been intrigued by Eastern Religion. This may be because they are so utterly alien to the western mind. It may be because they systems that are so ancient and hence partial, incomplete, revelations of God's will.

The passage that follows came to hand by an act of serendipity (providence) and it clarifies for me some of the misapprehensions that have been acquired through years of inaccurate schooling.

from Dancing with Siva
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

Do Other Gods Exist Apart from Siva?

Sloka 21

Supreme God Siva has created all the Gods and given them distinct existence and powers, and yet He pervades them wholly. They are separate but inseparable. At the deepest level, nothing exists apart from Him. Aum.


God Siva is the Supreme Being, the Lord of lords. He alone prevails everywhere. Not an atom moves except by His will. Ganesa, Karttikeya, Indra, Agni and all the 330 million Gods of Hinduism are beings just as we are, created by Lord Siva and destined to enjoy union with Him.

Reading this dispelled vague notions instilled by past courses of Hinduism as a polytheistic system. It is admittedly quite different from Christian belief, and any comparisons between the two are likely to strain on system or another. For example if one were to liken Hindu Gods to Angels, it would probably not convey the fullness of what Hindus believe about their Gods. So, it is not possible to compare one on one. But it is fascinating that a system that boasts of 330 million deities boils down to the statement that "nothing exists apart from Him." Right there, the Christian and the Hindu have a common ground for conversation and for beginning to explore the truth. What precisely does it mean for this to be so. If all other Gods are created beings who partake of His divinity, then what is it that they are most like in a Christian system of thought.

Ignorance precludes evangelism. We needn't believe what the Hindus believe, but it were best to understand it lest our communication be insulting and immediately off-putting with respect to sharing the common truths of our faiths. The most frequent mistake in evangelism (that I have seen) is arrogance and a presumption of superiority that alienates the person being approached from the truth. "Be ye as cunning as serpents and as harmless as doves." Speaking to a person of another faith, particularly a faith we do not understand, it is best to have a grounding, to really listen to what the person says before we start laying the truth on them. Perhaps they already know something of the truth. Perhaps they already know of a supreme God without whom nothing at all exists, without whose every thought being itself would collapse.

I don't know why this occurred to me today, but I was looking through a modern Hindu Catechism and was struck by how much that was there is reminiscent of much of Catholic teaching--the purpose of sex in marriage, the necessity of the preservation of chastity before marriage, the belief in one God.

But then there are great chasms between us--Hindu teaching holds that there is no intrinsic evil in the world. (Now we might get into a debate about what is meant by "intrinsic evil"; however, my brief reading has made clear that even if I acknowledge that everything was created good, I am still miles away from what a Hindu seems to hold true about creation.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear how the voice of God has made itself heard, even if differently, and to our ears indistinctly, outside of His central and definitive revelation in the persons of the Chosen People and in the single person of the Lord of All, the Incarnation, the Crucified.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 03:37 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack