Saturday, February 28, 2009

Goodness, Find Us

Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.
Mark 10:18

You do the right things, but you are not good. Even if all you did were right things, that does not make you good.

God, does the world, teeming with long-dead souls, look that strange to you? How peculiar does it seem when, even on its brightest days, it needs saving?

How strange, too, that you give us the feeling that it needs saving. A world perfectly beautiful and completely broken. And inside, the brief feeling of an eternal warmth rushes around the flesh with the blood, only to remind us, in the brevity, that something is seriously out of the right.

It is not right, and even if it was right it is not good. What a strange effect grace sometimes has upon the soul to stir your lowly image to such stern and lordly convictions.

One of your servants said a good man is hard to find. But we know goodness when we see it. Then let goodness find us all. Another erstwhile servant of yours says it always has and will again.

Bid your angels to look over our shoulders. Bid us to look upon every man and woman and child with love and feel with conviction that everything is broken. No profession of love will ring true without the confession; there is no truth without the feeling for the thought.

Hear us in our hour of endangerment. Hear us while we strive to live, and be our refuge.

Let us receive your grace and see your goodness now!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Burning Into Ash

She never sounded so forlorn or despairing.

She does not believe in your words of love, does not know how. She says you say them to be kind. She does not believe in love anymore.

The love that gave you her flesh, the love that gave you her blood: she does not feel it in her, she does not feel it being given to her.

She feels she is worthy of nothing, neither your time nor your devotion.

Her words are thick. Her face is drawn downward into a nervous slump.

She looks around her shrunken world, an invisible cage barely shielding her from incomprehensible violence. She cannot see the way out.

She stays up late to listen for a voice of reassurance. She cannot hear it.

Every night is dangerous. Her dreams terrify us. Who are the enemies assailing her from within?

It is early Friday, and she is crying, afraid of the ghosts. She is crying, because she is becoming a ghost.

And the eighth day is far, far away.

She is burning into ash, and her embers are swiftly drifting away. She is disintegrating into dust too fine to grasp.

Surely this is not the work of the Holy One! Surely this is not the offering she is to make! For who she is, is being stolen from us and from God.

Truly, do you see your sparrow falling?

Stir up her embers and fuse them into a livid coal. Give her the light and heat that she may share it with you and us. Make her live so that you may use her until her time surrenders to eternity.

But let not her body and mind be profaned by this demonic immolation. Lead her not into a living oblivion.

For ashes she must become, but not to be scattered to no purpose. Let her be a sign, an act, a person who by braving this burning becomes the way for us to go.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Reproof

You prayed for those too hurt to cry but forgot the way to feel.
You forgot the way to cry.

So now, this blue in shades of brown -- does it surprise you?

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice": then why are you so cruel to yourself?
Why are you afraid to bear your most godly vulnerabilities?
This is what the world wants of you.
This, the Lord requires of you.

You do not love the ones you're with.
Very well: then see if pity passes over.
It will not. It will find you underneath that black cracked visage.
And it will pry you apart.

For why should not your God kill out of mercy? Yes, if it be the only mercy left that you can feel.


Everyone lives what they believe.
But I promise you will live on whom you believe.
Who are you, if you are?
Not every belief will survive.
You will live on if you live on whom you believe.


Now, stop your prayers! For truly they never were.
Will you dare to speak to me? Will you dare to look at me?

You have entombed yourself.
I led Jesus to the stable, to the temple, to the river, to the desert, to the seaside, to the mountain, to the city, to the hilltop, and to the cavern.
I never led him to the tomb or the crypt.

You are not going away. You are too graceful to stumble into the abyss.

Look not for what you want.
I will give you Who I give.
You will give the Who you are, for I am a beggar looking for your joys and sorrows.

Look up. Look over.
Look upon the one whom I brought you.
Hear the word: "I love you."
Look upon your other, too, with love.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Before Sleep

Now make me still for the unquiet day to come.

Let this surrender of body and soul feel sweet. Let this slumber be silent.

Then make me rise again for the ever-living surrender, and help me wake the wide-eyed sleepers.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Sexuality

This is a note I wrote in August 2008 as I was reading a book by Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, titled Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church. It is fitting to repost it here today.

Some propositions on sexual identity and practice, with an eye toward celibacy:

Sexuality is thoroughly a part of human nature. This holds true even as one holds that human nature and, hence, sexuality, is socially constructed.

Gender and orientation are core aspects of sexuality. Therefore, gender and orientation are thoroughly part of human nature. Human nature being unified but by no means uniform, no varieties of gender and orientation should be considered “intrinsically disordered.”

Sexual inclination and sexual expression are interdependent but also independent of one another. They are neither fully separable nor identical. Sexual inclination is not fully realized without sexual expression, but it is not determined by particular form(s) of sexual expression. Sexual expression is dependent on and is an indicator of sexual inclination, but it is also dependent on other aspects of sexuality.

Mere sexual inclination (i.e., orientation) has no bearing on the moral value of sexual expression.

The meaning and purpose of sexual intercourse is generally but not universally unitive (strengthening the love of the couple) and procreative (creating new life). Therefore, while both the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality must be present in marriage as an institution of the whole human race, they need not be present in each and every act of intercourse, nor even in every marriage. Indeed, this is neither practical nor desirable.

To take a broader view, sexual intercourse is generally but not universally the ultimate expression of sexuality. Sexual intercourse is not the exclusive means by which the highest aspirations of sexuality (i.e., love is strengthened and new life is created) are achieved. Therefore, while sexual intercourse will always make manifest the most sublime expressions of human sexuality, it need not be the ultimate expression for every human being. To demand this of the act is neither practical nor desirable.

To go even further, some human beings will never express their sexuality through sexual intercourse. Not every person is called to be married, much less to be a parent. And not every person is called to be in a long-term sexual relationship marked by exclusivity, intimacy, and mutuality. But if unitivity and procreativity need not be present in every consummated marriage, then it need not be present among persons who choose not to marry or enter sexual relationships. Yet even among those who do not marry or enter sexual relationships, the highest aspirations of sexuality may still be attained.

Mere sexual inclination places no limits on the capacity of any human being to achieve the highest aspirations of sexuality. Neither does sexual inclination wholly determine the form(s) of sexual expression assumed by an individual human being.

To use the language of the Church, every child of God is called to a particular sexual vocation. Gender and orientation have to do with sexual identity; marriage (with or without parenthood), celibacy, singleness, etc., have to do with sexual vocation. Discovery of one’s gender and orientation is the beginning, not the end of the discernment of one’s sexual vocation. Mere sexual inclination neither qualifies a person for nor precludes that person from any particular sexual vocation.

The vocation to ecclesial ministry is a direct gift of God to the Church (i.e., the people of God) and an indirect gift to individuals. Such vocations are therefore subject to confirmation by the Church. On the other hand, sexual vocation is a direct gift of God to individuals and is not subject to confirmation by the Church. The Church does well to remain agnostic on matters of sexual vocation, instead offering guidance for discernment using all the spiritual tools at its command, and a readiness to bless genuine sexual vocations.

There is no clear correlation or causal relationship between particular ecclesial vocations and particular sexual vocations. If this proposition is valid, then two conclusions follow:

Not every person called to priestly ordination is called to celibacy. Put positively, a person called to priestly ordination may also be called to marriage.

Irrespective of ecclesial vocation, not every person is called to marriage. Put positively, a person who serves outside the clerical ranks may yet be called to celibacy.

Once again, a sexual vocation is a direct gift from God the Holy Spirit. Therefore, neither marriage nor celibacy is a superior practice to the other. The former is a witness to God’s incarnational and immanent love; the latter is a witness to God’s eschatological and transcendent love.

A sexual vocation is a charism, and it cannot be mandated. Therefore, celibacy should not be a condition of ordination to priesthood. Finally, because a sexual vocation is a charism, it should never be despised. Therefore, celibacy should not be regarded inside or outside the priestly or religious orders as aberrant or unnatural. As a unique form of sexual practice it is well within the diverse range of healthy, loving, life-giving sexual expressions that comprise all of human sexuality.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

'God Does Not Like You'

Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen....We don't need him!
Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Chuck Palahniuk's antagonist gives us three premises and two conclusions:

Premise 1: God does not like us.
Premise 2: God never wanted us.
Premise 3: God hates us.

Conclusion 1: Being not liked, never wanted, and even being hated by God is not the worst thing that can happen to us.
Conclusion 2: We don't need a God who does not like us, who even hates us.

With qualifications, I can accept all three premises and the first conclusion. The second conclusion does not follow from the premises. We do need a God who does not like us, and we do need a God who even hates us. Indeed, this God is the only God we have.

And here's the key that opens the door to these seemingly absurd sentences.

David Tracy says it is the central metaphor of Christianity. We may never know or understand God even with this metaphor, but we'll never understand God without it, so we who believe by it better be about the job of making its meaning clear.

It is an affirmation of such ineluctable starkness that it calls roaringly for apophatic declarations of equal starkness.

With it, I can consider the possibility that God does not like us. By this metaphor we adduce from God a quality of being-in-relation of a different order from liking. It is an order that is not only different, but also incommensurable. Liking is bounded, capricious, and partisan. The God who merely liked us could not give us life. The God who merely liked us could not save us or sustain us. It may be true that God does like us, but this does not make God that with which we are ultimately concerned. If we are to speak strictly of God as that which relates to ultimate reality, we must discard all that is superfluous to ultimacy. Our God does not have to like us to give us life, to save us, and sustain us. God could like us, but God does not need to. Liking does not add to deity. But it could detract from it. I will take the step further and suppose that where ultimate reality is concerned, boundaries, caprice, and partisanship are inimical to the God of boundlessness, steadfastness, and impartiality Christians confess. God cannot like and still be God. The central metaphor of Christianity exposes the limits of liking and points toward a reality at once more transcendent and immanent.

With the central metaphor, I can accept that God never wanted us. By this I do not mean an idle metaphysical musing over how God never wants for anything. Let's go past that to a more bracing personal reality. God desires persons, but God's desire for us is not a desire of us. And God's desire for us is not the same as the desire in us that leads us to embrace, possess, and reject persons with finite passion. God creates us without wanting us. Indeed, God cannot create by wanting. And so on for redeeming and sustaining us. God desires without wanting. God's eroticism is not concupiscent; this makes God's friendship and self-giving possible.

With the central metaphor, I can even admit of an indeterminate probability that God hates us. But let's be careful about how we mean that. We are because God is. Who we are is in relation to who God is. The I-Thou relation is a relation of Whos. It is a relation of human and divine persons. It cannot be an I-It relationship, a relation of Whats. Because of sin and the fall to violence, we are what we are, and we are not who we are. We cannot relate to other persons, and surely we cannot relate to the ultimate Person. If, in our Whatness, we do not accept the life that God has shared with us, and if we do not share with others what God has shared with us, because we cannot and will not -- if we reject the God Who Is, what else can God do but hate the What we have become? I has forsaken Thou, I has made its understanding of Thou an It, and I has actually become an It. God is wrathful at this. But this is not merely the heated hatred such as humans show toward one another. It is the cool wrath of anathema. God will not be made an It, and the God Who Is will not relate to our What. Given the Whoness of the central metaphor in the person of Jesus, how else can God respond to our denial but with another denial?

In a peculiar way we agree with Tyler Durden, an anarchist-nihilist who is not burdened by Christian metaphysics. It is not a question for him whether God can like at all or want at all or hate at all and still be God. He knows his God does not like us. His God does not want us, and his God hates us. The questions do not concern him, nor do the answers. All that matters is the right response to such a God and the world of God's making. And his response is to get pissed off, take off one's shirt and shoes, and prepare to fight to the point of destruction.

In a world addled by violence and tempted by terrorism, it must not go without saying that Tyler's response is the wrong one. So let's push the key over all the tumblers, all the way into the lock.

Tyler Durden rightly rejects the God of our projections and rails against poverty of life. But he wrongly construes ultimate reality. He supposes that granting and glorifying life requires a wanting of life, and from the shape of things it appears to Tyler that God has wanted us as capriciously as we want others. Indeed this God is worthy only of rejection. Tyler reasons that God has denied us first, and so we must deny God and all that God has wrought.

But the reality is that, with Tyler, we have denied a God we never truly knew or understood. Because God is love.

Tyler's first conclusion is sound. Being not liked, never wanted, and being hated by God is not the worst thing that can happen. Being unalive, being unfree, and being bounded in hopelessness are worse. And these are but symptoms of the worst thing that can happen. Because God is love, the worst thing that can happen is not to be loved by God. And so we must reject Tyler's second conclusion. We do need the God who does not like us and might hate us because this is precisely the God who is able to love us into life, freedom, and boundless possibility.

Out of pure love this God tells us who we are, whether we like it or not. This God, in whom all things are possible, desires us without possessively wanting us. This God says the Word that makes us who we will become and will reunify the hateful What which we are with the Who we must be. God does not like us; God loves us, and by this love we live and move and have our being. By this love, we will be with God.

Now when I talked to God I knew he'd understand
He said stick by me and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to
Peter Green, "Oh Well"

Friday, February 13, 2009

What God Has Joined

Mark 10:2-12 is not just for married couples. This is a political statement binding on all God's children. See Romans 8:35-39 and Ephesians 2:11-22. Reading Mark's teaching episodes in light of these two readings, one may dare to allegorize what appears to be a straightforward examination of domestic relations as regulated by God's covenant. And then we find ourselves examining the human-divine relationship.

The teaching on marriage and adultery in Mark, followed immediately by Jesus' admonition to the disciples not to keep the children from approaching him, would appear arbitrary were it not for the impression that these episodes as juxtaposed are saying something about covenant itself. God has joined every person to God, and God has done this by joining the human race together. Any attempt to split the human union on account of age, class, race, sex, and other human factors is an assault on the human-divine union. Any person, male or female, rich or poor, white or brown or black, may be guilty of abandoning God by abandoning one's fellow child of God. Jesus refuses any efforts to hold the least of God's children at a distance from God and the peaceful reign of God.

And God remains a jealous God. To separate others from God's love is to effect one's own break-up with God in favor of another partner -- namely, one's own self or one's preferred persons or one's preferred in-group: same difference. This is what God despises and what Jesus calls "adultery." There is no God but God. You cannot leave God for one's own preferred selves and remain faithful to God. Either you love God and neighbor and preserve union above and below or you hate your neighbor and cheat on God by running off with the in-group you have made your lover -- orphaning the rest of humanity in the process.

As it was for the Hebrew prophets, the marriage bond was for Jesus a useful image of the bond between God and humans. This bond is characterized by exclusivity and permanence, and to a lesser degree, mutuality and intimacy. There is debate among scholars, but I find that Jesus leaves little wiggle room for divorce. If one holds the view that Jesus is saying something about the human-divine covenant through his severe interpretation (and correction!) of Mosaic law, then anything but an absolutist view on the indissolubility of marriage becomes incoherent.

What God has joined, let no human being separate. Well, God has joined all together to God so that God may be all in all. What God once may have permitted because of the hardness of human hearts can no longer persist if God's creation is to find ultimate fulfillment in God's reign. The authentic word of Paul in Romans and kindred word in Ephesians speak to me a word of already-achieved fulfillment and final fulfillment to come. And while that ultimate fulfillment may be delayed in coming, it will not fail to arrive.

Therefore, from the ancient witness comes the challenge to act as if one believed it was really true that God will not let the covenant be broken or the blessed union of souls dissolved.

"Between God and the soul there is no between." Even Julian of Norwich's declaration can be read as a political statement. Her indicative, when viewed through Pauline eyes, becomes an imperative. There will be no between, and no human being will thwart God from drawing all souls into union with God and each other in eternal relationship. Therefore, human beings who believe in God do best to be vigilant against those who, to paraphrase Lincoln, would seek to dissolve the covenant and divide effects by negotiation.

Such vigilance is what this soul, despite muddled thinking and weak resolve, seeks to practice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Go to the Mirror

... he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like.
James 1:23-24

Go to the mirror. See who I want you to be.

Linger here a while. Look with new eyes. Look with my eyes.

Do not stare. Do not glare. Do not pore, and do not adore. Go to the mirror.

Look not with your pride. Look there with my pride.

Look with me. Take a look at yourself. Take a good look at yourself.

Do you see what I see?

I see what is mine. You have never seen yourself as anything but yours.

You are not your own. You belong. Have you ever looked at yourself as if you belonged?

Until you do, you are not really you.

Until this moment, you have looked at what you are. Now look at who you are.

See who I want you to be.

You will be who you will be because I am who am.

Remember who you see. For you must love the one you see. You do not have to like; to like is far too cheap a sentiment. But you must love.

Go to the mirror. Look at yourself with love. Look at yourself as if you believed you were loved.

Look at yourself and believe that I believe.

Go to the mirror. Linger a moment there.

You see yourself, and you will see me there.

I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, who said to me, "You are my son; today I am your father."
Psalms 2:7

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Near and Far

In the end, did I draw them to me?

When you gave me brothers and sisters, did I adopt them?

The thing I feel in my solitude, is it your warm breath under my skin, or is it the sedative of some devil?

So near, so far: The distance between you and God is no greater than the distance between the averted eyes of you and the person next to you.

I go to your many houses, those of stone and glass and those with no walls. To cross over -- to enter the holy: that is the beginning of worship. To go back -- to bear the holy, being holy: that is the end of worship.

Today, I am at the threshold of the sanctuary, the membrane of the living circle. I sense you are there, in the light, and I want to touch you. I want you to touch me.

There, at the threshold, I remain. I am slumbering almost below the ground in the cool darkness. I almost want not to be disturbed, ever again.

Except, someone says: Sursum corda!

If I do not enter the sanctuary, how can I go into the street?

Without accepting the dare of worship, there can be no risk in the witness.

When will I dare again?

You did not command us to make your house a hermitage. Keep us from liking our loneliness.

Teach us to love what we see.

After all, love really does come at first sight. But for many, first sight comes after ages of unseeing with opaque eyes or downturned eyes. For many more, there is never a sighting.

So near, so far: The distance between you and God is no greater than the distance between the averted eyes of you and the person next to you.

Be thou my vision, Lord, that I may say before I die that I loved somebody.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Counter-Reading

From Psalm 55:

If this had been done by an enemy
I could bear his taunts.
If a rival had risen against me,
I could hide from him.

But it is you, my own companion, my intimate friend!
How close was the friendship between us.
We walked together in harmony in the house of God.

I am well aware that the accepted reading of this psalm is that of a prayer for justice. Someone has been wronged by a companion, a comrade, a fellow brother or sister. One has been betrayed by the other.

But while reading this psalm I have had a Nathan-meets-David moment. Suppose it is I who is the false friend?

Sin is the distance between who we are and what we are. I can read this psalm as an unwitting prayer of lament for my estrangement from God and from my true self, the person I was created to be.

O God, listen to my prayer, do not hide from my pleading, attend to me and reply; with my cares, I cannot rest....

O that I had wings like a dove to fly away and be at rest.
So I would escape far away and take refuge in the desert.

Sometimes God hides. Most of the time we are the ones who do the hiding.

I tremble at the shouts of the foe, at the cries of the wicked; for they bring down evil upon me.
They assail me with fury.

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Sin hardens our heart and casts a veil on all that we perceive. A rose shows us only its thorns. A soothing word only clangs in our ears. The good and true and beautiful appears meaningless and ugly. All the world is ours, but when we are caught and crushed in the vise-grip of fractured relationships, we are stuck in a crumbling nutshell.

I would hasten to find a shelter from the raging wind, from the destructive storm, O Lord, and from their plotting tongues.

Sin corrupts one of our most precious gifts from God: the power of imagination and its corollary in our senses, the power of perception. Indeed, there are winds and storms, and they blow where they will, for purposes unknown to us. Shall we judge them to be raging and destructive, on the evidence of our perceptions?

For I can see nothing but violence and strife in the city.
Night and day they patrol high on the city walls.

It is full of wickedness and evil; it is full of sin.
Its streets are never free from tyranny and deceit.

Of course, there really is violence and strife in the city of man. These are the visible marks of sin, for which we are responsible collectively but usually not culpable individually. Make no mistake: we are sinned against. But which is greater, the transgression or the source of the transgression? Understand this: our own thrown-ness, our common ownership of sin, becomes so heavy and loathsome that we project it falsely onto others, blaming our friends and loved ones individually for every fear and anxiety that assails us. Our lying perceptions are the precursors to our violent interfaces with the world. And our wayward perceptions tragically become the reality from which we cannot flee.

Adam and Eve committed a transgression in the garden, but God did not banish them for it. They were expelled for denying their responsibility. This is the sin that leads to all transgressions.

As for me, I will cry to God and the Lord will save me.
Evening, morning and at noon I will cry and lament.

Sometimes God says no.

He will deliver my soul in peace in the attack against me: for those who fight me are many, but he hears my voice.

God answers our prayers in ways we can never fully predict, and never according to what we expect. One might imagine that those "many" who fight this tortured soul are not enemies out there or other external forces but rather a part of that soul as the demonic, which is to say destructive, forms of culture we have embodied.

And even in the midst of our demonic condition, there is a voice that cries out loud and true from within our fractured selves. This voice, God will hear.

God will hear and will humble them, the eternal judge: for they will not amend their ways.
They have no fear of God.

We believe God, and yet we reject God. We promise to change, but we cannot change. We tremble before the holy, but we cast off God recklessly. We are confident in karmic vengeance, ever denying that deliverance may require us to be delivered up.

The traitor has turned against his friends; he has broken his word.
His speech is softer than butter, but war is in his heart.
His words are smoother than oil, but they are naked swords.

We never fail to see in others what we fail to see in ourselves.

Entrust your cares to the Lord and he will support you.
He will never allow the just man to stumble.

But you, O God, will bring them down to the pit of death.
Deceitful and bloodthirsty men shall not live half their days.

God will save who we are and do away with what we must not be. God will reunify who we are with what we are. Those demonic forms that we embody falsely, these will be brought down to the pit of death. God will put self-destroying tendencies toward deceit and violence to death. May it be done quickly!

O Lord, I will trust in you.

May it be so.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Today's Prayer

Grant me courage to cover my fears.
Grant me patience to cover my anger.
Grant me strength to cover my weakness.
Grant me these three, for I pledged to obey you and not men.

Be in what I build. Be in what I guard. But let me pray first to be with you, for it is your house, and it is your city.

Let there be bread for all the world. If my work is not leaven for the bread, then curse my work.

Let my name mean nothing and my age mean less as long as the labor is not lost.

Your will with my will, mine with yours, not either my will or yours, for then it will be neither-nor.

The sun dies soon. When rises the moon, stay with me. Bear me toward you so that I can bear the world.

Blessed be your holy memory. Blessed be your holy wisdom. Blessed be your holy will.