June 2009 Archives

1 Corinthians 13 is one of those passages commonly read at weddings. It is often perceived as a hymn to love, but if we hold to this perception we do so at our peril. It isn't merely a lecture about the qualities of love. Paul tells us in the preceding verse, "But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way."

What follows then is a way. But how is it a way and what are we to do about it? After a brief prologue in which Paul tells us that without love all is in vain, he launches into a series of verses about the qualities of love--and this is where the going gets difficult. In verse 4a, for example, he tells us that "Love is patient and kind." This seems simple enough. However, if Paul is showing us a way, how are we to act on this? Should we draw patience out of ourselves and attempt to show it in love? What then, we become Pelagians, thinking that we can of our own efforts accomplish what is necessary?

If the verses that make up 1 Corinthians 13 are a way, then we are called to follow it, not merely admire the beautiful language that comprises it. How then do we act on "Love is patient and kind?" Paul doesn't tell us "Be paitent and kind." Instead he gives us a sort of field guide to love--look for these characteristics, and you'll know you've found it, and thus found the way.

We know that the way Paul is describing is love. We also know that Jesus is love. Not coincidentally, the qualities that describe love also describe Jesus. And perhaps this is the solution to Paul's "Best Way." The way of love is the way of Jesus.

Again, that seems simple, but how then does Paul show us this way? Are these guideposts supposed to help us recognize Jesus? Are they calls to change our behaviors? Are they a plea to open ourselves to the transforming power of love and recognize it as more than emotion and desire (although never precluding those two as well) but as a series of actions built on the fragile foundations of desire?

All of human desire is an arrow pointing home. All of our desire, whether we can see it or not is for one thing. Aquinas points out that no one desires what they think is truly bad--they have somehow led themselves into the belief that the evil they desire is, in fact a good. The revolutionary who blows up innocent people is advancing the freedom of his people, and so on. So, if desire is the arrow pointing home, the compass, perhaps what Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 is how to read the compass properly. Look at what you love and see if it meets all of these standards, and if not, then it is not fully what you desire, but perhaps another signpost on to something that better fits the description. Smaller loves gradually point the way to the Greater Love, just as rivulets run into streams, rivers, and the vast ocean.

If desire is the compass, there can be no question that humankind goes out of its way to deconstruct the compass and make all directions the direction home--and therefore none of them are. But, perhaps, a proper reading of St. Paul will give us an indication of true north and point us the way of proper love. We can't achieve it by ourselves, but we can desire it, pray for it, and be prepared to recognize it when it comes knocking at the front door.

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A Worthwhile Quotation


Given me by a friend from a blog I don't personally visit (no animus, just indicating that I haven't seen this at the location sited below).

Notable and Quotable (II)
Posted by Kendall Harmon

...Sustained discussion of the human propensity towards self-deception has all but disappeared from twentieth-century analyses of the spiritual life. There are, of course, still specialists in philosophy and psychology working out the details. But, for most of us, self-deception simply doesn't jump immediately to mind as an explanation of our experience. We rarely think of it. Lots of people I talk to have never so much as considered the possibility that they've fallen prey to it in any significant way. One is reminded here of the haunting suggestion in Bishop Butler's tenth sermon that "those who have never had any suspicion of, who have never made allowances for this weakness in themselves, who have never (if I may be allowed such a manner of speaking) caught themselves in it, may almost take it for granted that they have been very much misled by it."

-- Gregg A. Ten Elshof, I Told Me So: The Role of Self-deception in Christian Living
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), p, 7

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The Gift That Keeps on Giving


Sam often comes to me and asks what he can buy me as a gift. It's a hard question because I want to encourage the giving impulse, but at the same time, with Linda and Sam, what more do I need? Is there any possibility of having anything whatsoever nearly so valuable and so joy-inducing.

Obviously not.

This thought occurred to me while in Morning Prayer. If I feel this way, how much more so must God feel.

"But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks
or thousands of fat lambs,
so let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly."

God tells us in scripture that He has no need of rams and bullocks. Our greatest sacrifice is ourselves, given unreservedly. I think of it in scientific terms--in terms from Konrad Lorenz--God becomes imprinted on us (Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm), and as ducklings or goslings, we follow where God leads unreservedly, without question. That is the sacrifice, the gift, the offering He wants from us. Nothing else will do. Just as Sam can give me nothing more valuable than his presence in my life, so we can give God nothing more valuable than our participation in His life.

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From Morning Prayer


from Morning Prayer, Tuesday of Week 4

So that your people may walk in innocence, you came to us, Lord Jesus, and told us to be holy as your Father is holy. Help your children to love what is truly perfect, so that we may neither speak what is evil nor do what is wrong. Let us stand in your sight and celebrate with you the Father's love and justice.

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Poem again

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Fickle food
its flavors fade
and all that's left
is what weighs me down.

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Rejecting Religion

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from Finding Our Way Again
Brian McLaren

Those who reject religion are often rejecting a certain arid system of belief, or if not that, a set of trivial taboos or rules or rituals that have lost meaning for them--each a thing residue of a lost way of life.

One of the other passages reflects on the popularity of books on Buddhism.

He [Dr. Peter Senge] replied, "I think it is because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and christianity presents itself as a system of belief."

This seems so true. Whenever I hear discussion of Christianity, it is almost always with respect to some question of doctrine or ritual practice and almost never, within the Catholic Church, with respect to "How must we then live?"

While right doctrine is important--it informs actions and guides lives--right living is more important. Wasn't that really the point Jesus kept making to the Pharisees? They understood doctrine, they had interpreted it down to the finest possible thread. They had figured out how to calculate when the sabbath began and how to observe the sabbath in every detail. But they failed to live their faith, clinging instead to rule and ritual which, while important, are empty if lives are not lived according to what lay behind the rules and ritual.

Many Christians have become the new Pharisees, standing in judgment on others and enforcing their rules as right practice, whether or not they are guided by just principle. In the past I have seen frequent call for denying politicians Holy Communion because of their stand on abortion, and probably other issues. While it is important to uphold right doctrine, it is more important to show love--and while it is possible to show love while withholding communion, I don't believe that love is what drive most people to clamor for this action.

And that is only one of endless examples that could be trotted out.

So then, what are we to do? I think the answer lay in what McLaren says his book is to do--to help us revitalize Christianity not only as a system of belief but also as a way of life, profoundly lived. And each of us must come to terms with that ourselves.

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Did you say yes?
I wasn't listening
or perhaps I didn't hear.
And did I even want
a yes? What was the
question that caught us up
in so much thought--
fever-frothed discussion--
it must have meant
something when I asked.
And now where are we?
What was said?
Is everything new again?

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A Poem for a Bad Day


Recollected in Tranquility

In the mix and muddle of events
it's often hard to see and say what
seem to be the truth; instead we stand
aghast and gaping at what we cannot
change. We seek inside asylum
a solace, a sweet peace
to spread like a thin blanket
that offers no warmth, but a harsh
security--a shell against the shocks
that strike at who we are.

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Grey ghost of gravel
and pavement, he passes
underfoot with a whisper.
Still he stands
a bated breath until
the untrustworthy foot
or shivering, skipping shade
goads him into fresh-
footed flight across
sunlit surfaces, his
shadow flying in front
cutting new contours, sharp-edged
etchings for lawn and sidewalk.

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"Recalling Keokuk"


On a trip to Macomb, Illinois for a geological convention (North-Central GSA) a group of us left the very small college town and drove some 25, or perhaps as much as 50 miles west to Keokuk, Iowa to have dinner at a small Mexican restaurant on the western side of Keokuk. My recollection was that the food was pretty much a midwesterner's idea of what Mexican food is all about. But on the way there we stopped on the western bank of the Mississippi--and that is what is recalled below.

Recalling Keokuk

The rolling hills of Keokuk--
I thought, hills in Iowa?--
as down the sweeping streets
that strayed over the bluff-tops
above the river, I saw brick and wood
houses, magnificent in age and whiteness
and pride of generational holders.
The Mississippi at a decades long
ebb stranded barges filled with sand
and gravel at the gates of the river,
and we five men looked down into
the muddy wash, posed as
though at urinals for some sassy
camera's flash.

That is not the now Iowa,
the Mississippi that flows
past the brooding past--masked
by marble, brick, and mortar.
But that river, pinched in from
banks and flowing trickle
to trickle and puddle to puddle
lives large as long as those who stood
still see and think and share
their thoughts and ways.

THAT Iowa is alive in ways
that one I cannot see now is not
and though the shape and shade
and form and flow of memory
mocks what once was, and each
recall shifts subtly
what is brought back,
still it is there in the richness
of memory, the raw wilderness
of thought to return and
reshape as bidden.
So the muddy puddles are forever
part of the river that roars with
might swell and undulates
and undergoes its remaking
in mind.

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A Comment on Mrs. Dalloway


Last Saturday my book group had its most satisfying discussion (about a book) in quite some time. We spent nearly two hours just walking through Mrs. Dalloway in an attempt to understand everything from the title of the novel to why time dissolves in leaden circles. Here then, composed before the discussion, is my attempt to make sense of the novel.

Clarissa and Septimus--Giving Time Meaning

Brought together
in the dissolving leaden circles of the hour
she learns to be, spring green,
and he learns not to be before
a leaden grey car crouched in the drive
and haunted by spectres of previous trips.
As the hour sounds, time
and all its boundaries dissolve
so what were separate actions
now become all one
and grey and green and male
and female, all have meaning
in the limpid light that
sometimes spreads
in the ripples of lead.

There, could it be any more clear?

And I add for what it is worth, the following excerpt from my journal of reading:

"One of Woolf's themes in Mrs. Dalloway is how time is measured and becomes variously interpreted, especially when simultaneous actions are seen in gentle correspondence. She began to put her fingers upon time's pulse and see that while clocks and chronometers hack and split time, human actions give it profound meaning. There's a human need to measure what cannot truly be measured."

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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