Thursday, December 26, 2013

December 26

The day after they marveled at the manger, the shepherds must have wondered what had changed. They returned to the quotidian details and demands of shepherding, for the sheep remained sheep. A child had been born, a child had been given to them, to the world. A glory usually perceived only occasionally and fleetingly, if at all, had blazed across the dark of their sky and irradiated sense, mind, and heart. Existence glowed as it had not since the first bang of genesis itself.

Then the day after. Sunrise and sunset, day and night again, much as before. For this day and for who knew how many days ahead? Meanwhile that small family left for a far country; and the child slowly grew through the years, not to be heard from again until another blaze across the landscape of their life, followed by cruel extinction of that light. What had changed?

They, touching and touched by God incarnate, had changed. Exposed outwardly to and infused inwardly with divine glory made quotidian companion, flesh and blood, they rose the day after, in the mystery of faith, to life both strangely the same and strangely, utterly new. In that mystery, in the time given them, they began to learn to tend their fields and days toward a second genesis, a renovation to come of unending light and life, abounding in glory. And so they must have continued to marvel.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Did High Glory Blaze a Little Space?

Did high glory blaze a little space that vast cold night? Did some poor souls, laboring late in roughing fields, thus gleam in face and heart, their world transformed, at such compacted splendor? And can that long-ago radiance, these many years hence, come down again to lift our deep gloom, to push back the looming shades? Ah dear Child, may it be so! May you, refulgent in blooded humility, bear anew to us, all sorts and conditions, your unconditioned light and love, however small may they seem this night, that we may rise to ruddy dawn and look with you on wondrous, happy day!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Some Thoughts on Revelation 1:1-8 in Advent

Beginnings and endings. Transitions. No matter what our situation in life, we daily, weekly, and yearly endure countless beginnings and endings, countless transitions. Some are minor; some are major. Some are sad or painful; some are joyous or hopeful. In all, nothing seems to last. For those of younger years, life appears to be characterized far more by beginnings than endings; for those of older years, life appears to be characterized far more by endings than beginnings. Yet for all, between our first beginning and our last ending, transition seems the very stuff of life, until we finally die.

Deep, deep, deep in the flesh and blood of our existence, of all our beginnings and endings, God – the One who is, who was, and who is to come – came to us in Jesus. He came to us in Jesus to endure and to redeem all that “is, was, and is to come” in our life – all our transitions, and most especially our first beginning and last ending. God is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning without ending. He is the Ending without beginning. He rules over the world’s beginning and ending, over our beginning and ending. In God, all our beginnings and endings find ever-creating, ever-sustaining, and ever-redeeming goodness and love, without variation, without change, without transition. Where the transitions of life are decidedly mixed for us, where fragility and impermanence wear upon us, God is – good, loving, faithful, sovereign. In Jesus, God takes upon himself what we break down, and what breaks us down. In Jesus, God perfects what otherwise would ruin and defeat us.

John broadcast this good news in what we call the Book of Revelation. It is a strange, challenging, and unsettling document, filled with fantastical images, cataclysmic events, and dire warnings. Yet it is also a comforting document, for the thematic substrate throughout is this stupendous news of God’s good, faithful, and sovereign love for us in Jesus, both in and beyond this world.

May we – gladly receiving this good news – begin, journey, and end this Advent with God’s advent to us in Jesus. His humble birth is the true beginning of God’s ending of our story; and God’s end to our story spells the Alpha and Omega of his enduring love, which is our new beginning, world without end.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

With My Whole Heart I Cry?

"With my whole heart I cry;
answer me, O Lord.
I will keep your statutes."

(Psalm 119:45, New Revised Standard Version.)

Ah, but is not this "whole" the whole heart of the matter? I read this verse, for myself, not as a declaration but as a question. "With my whole heart I cry?" Do I approach the Lord, do I seek the Lord, with my whole heart? I cannot confess that I do. I stifle beats. I hide chambers. At least I try to stifle and hide. Whether successful or not before the God of the universe (including my own little sphere), I try. And thus I do not cry with my whole, with my core self. Before the one in whom I live, move, and have my being, I labor to think and act as if I could withhold and conceal cells and movements within my heart, within me. What nerve have I then, that I approach the Lord with the request that he answer me, with the proffer that I will live as I should live, if he will respond to me as I think he should?

Friday, December 13, 2013

We Await That Coming

Reading in Isaiah 40 this Advent ...

We plow; we pave; we produce. Yet we cannot straighten, cannot stop, the wilderness, the desert, in our lives and in our world. We await that coming.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Not Despite But In Our Suffering

Because God came to us fully, tenderly, and lovingly in the mystery of the incarnation -- in Jesus crucified, dead, and buried -- we can trust that God is fully, tenderly, and lovingly with us not despite our suffering but in our suffering.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Measure for the Day

Considering the world around me -- near and far, today and tomorrow -- how can I live daily in greatest benefaction and least detriment, in even the smallest things?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Visiting the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Karen and I spent several hours early on Saturday exploring the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, inside and outside, in northeast Washington. It is a magnificent edifice. The works of sacred art in the Great Upper Church and in the lower Crypt Church instantiate a panoply of theological ideas, human experiences, colors, and forms in great beauty. It was a splendid visit. We look forward to returning to the basilica to absorb more of that which cannot be fully, humanly absorbed.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Disordering and Healing of Love

God is love. Hence, love is good. Yet, in our sin, we often turn love from a good to a wrong. How does love become disordered in us? We love that which we ought not love. And where we love what we ought, we love in ways we ought not. At the very core of our being then, where what ought to be most good goes most wrong, we need the cruciform grace of salvation, of healing, to order love rightly, as God is love.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Short Narrative of My Faith

What does it mean to make a statement of personal faith? What elements constitute such faith? In any recounting, there will likely be a number of elements: historical – a personal spiritual history; theological – core personal beliefs; confessional – personal adherence to particular creedal formularies; ecclesiastical – personal membership in a particular church or churches; and social-psychological – particular exterior and interior conditions. This is certainly the case for me. While employing basically a historical structure, my account of personal faith includes all of these elements. All have worked together over time and space in the formation of my personal faith.

Raised in the Methodist Church from childhood, I have long been involved in church in terms of Sunday worship and Sunday school. In the course of this involvement, I believe that God grasped me well before I was terribly conscious or intentional in terms of personal faith, inasmuch as I always experienced a sense of something “special” in the worship service. Perhaps I apprehended the holiness or mystery of God’s presence in a manner accommodated to my young nature. At any rate, this sense played an important role in my life, for it kept me going to church when others in my family were slowly drifting away from it.

In high school, in addition to my church participation, I became involved in Young Life, a trans-denominational evangelistic ministry to youth. This came at a significant time for me. I was beginning to think much more consciously and intentionally about life and faith, purpose and meaning. Through Young Life especially, I encountered people, both peers and adults, who clearly possessed something as Christians that attracted me. I came to hear in a straightforward and powerful way that God, in redemptive love for the world and for me, had come to us in Jesus, who suffered death and then rose to new life for us. I saw in others whom I respected the fruit of this saving love, the transforming and appealing effect of this saving act. I began to know this new life in me: know in the full sense of knowledge which engages the whole person, cognitively and affectively. I began to experience this great truth, written in Colossians 1 concerning God’s message long hidden but now revealed in Christ, “The secret is this: Christ in you, the hope of a glory to come.” [Emphasis added.]

Out of this spiritual experience in high school, in my university years I began a search for a new church home. With no denigration of the particular Methodist church to which I had belonged, it no longer seemed a church home for me. I was restless and searching in many ways; church was one. For two years I attended a Mennonite church. In this congregation I found a community with the genuine warmth and love of Christ’s Spirit, and I vitally encountered the Anabaptist vision of a new ethic for a new people. Yet, as deeply and favorably impressed as I was by this community and this tradition, after a time I knew it was not the church home for which I was looking.

Hence, I began attending Sunday Mass at a Catholic church – worshiping but not communicating. That year of attendance and reading in Catholicism was deeply formative for me. Exposure to liturgical worship and spirituality opened up for me substantial forms for the profound expression of my worship of God. I seriously entertained the possibility of joining the Catholic Church, but in the process I realized that my questions about some aspects of Catholic theology and spirituality would make this difficult. That left me continuing to search for a church home.

Shortly after this, and so shortly after graduating from university, I decided to attend a small Episcopal church. I say without exaggeration that from those early weeks of attendance I felt with certainty that I had found a church home. What convinced me of this? In attending the services, in reading through the Book of Common Prayer, and in beginning to explore Anglicanism, I found great attractions at two points. (1) Anglicanism provided beautiful and theologically substantive forms of liturgical worship for individuals and congregations through its prayer book and services. (2) Anglicanism stood, in its classical formulations in the prayer book and articles of faith, squarely in the great strengths of the Reformation: namely, emphasis on the historical Christ and the historical work of Christ; the centrality of Christ for the individual’s and the church’s life of faith; the high intercessory priesthood of the ascended Christ whereby we are bold to have intimate intercourse with God; the principle of justification by grace by the saving work of Christ; and the Bible as the rule for faith and life, thus “containing all things necessary for salvation.” In short, I found Anglicanism to be rooted in the great truths of the Gospel set forth in Scripture and passed on in apostolic Christianity, as reinvigorated in the Reformation, while still standing in rich relationship with the heritage of the church up to the Reformation. I continue in this conviction, in this ecclesiastical stream.

As I have since reflected on my journey and undertaken formal theological and religious studies, I realize there are different ways of thinking about matters which have threaded through my searching, for in this very personal experience are profound and knotty issues of faith and life, of authority and tradition, relating to baptism, conversion, spiritual formation, ecclesiology, liturgy, mission and witness. These issues have long occupied the Church. The different church traditions – Orthodox, Catholic, varieties of Protestantism – have expressed a range of theological positions with corresponding organizational forms and practices.

As for me personally, on the one hand, certainly over the space of about a year in high school I had a conversion experience. I had a new sense of divine realities, new consciousness and awareness, new purposefulness. This was novel for me. It had not been my experience up to that point in the Church. On the other hand, just as certainly, I had been baptized as a child and exposed to the “gifts and graces” of the Church all my life. I had long experienced a peculiar sense of something “special” in church. What I found much more personally in high school was not entirely new to me. God had been there before me.

What then is the proper language for my story of faith? Realization of the divine initiative in baptism and the vows then made on my behalf as a young child? Conversion at an age of sufficient understanding, with subsequent reorientation of life and direction? Language fails finally to grasp and convey the profound realities – divine and human – attendant here. Yet language must be used to strive for grasp and expression, as language is one of the great individual and social gifts God has bestowed upon his human creation, and as God has revealed himself to us in deed and in language. Through my own experience and through subsequent reflection and study, I am convinced of certain basic theological and experiential truths.

 * For the cosmos and for individuals, in this age and in the age to come, the triune loving God initiates and effects creation, salvation, sanctification, and ultimate consummation.

 * In this priority of God’s creating and redeeming precedence and consequence, we as created and then fallen beings have the opportunity and indeed necessity, by grace, to respond gratefully to God’s love with our love and obedience to the fullest extent we can.

 * Our response in faith, hope, and love should involve the whole person, not mere cognitive understanding of theological propositions nor mere affective experience.

 * The lives of individuals and the life of the Church – formed and informed by divine grace in faith, hope, and love as fully as possible – must bear vital witness in word and deed to God’s creating and saving love for the world.

In view of all of this, I strive to live faithfully and (I hope) humbly within God’s creating, saving, and perfecting acts in Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Textures of Glory

It is mid October, with a great brilliance spreading above the eastern horizon early on this clear, cool morning. The branches of the tulip poplars, in the screen of trees which stand between the sun and the back of the house, stir in the breeze and enleaf a spectrum of greens and yellows, variously shaded and then illuminated. Such does light's dazzle, playing through wind and foliage, briefly but truly instantiate textures of glory.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marvel at the Elegant Ungainliness

Marvel at the elegant ungainliness
with which the lone great blue heron
slowly strides down the water's edge --
spindle legs lifting, crooking, reaching,
somehow balancing that feathered mass --
all the while itself, fishing and being,
as if unburdened by a clumsy gravity
from some self-tripping consciousness.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Brief Note on the Nature of Reality

The first question is not what do we think the world ought to be like, but how has God fashioned the world to be.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Animal Adventures in the Night

This much must be perfectly understood. We do not own a pet, and we do not live in the country ... For the second weekend in a row, we have been awakened in the night with the sound of an adult red fox loudly barking in front of our house -- i.e., in the little cul-de-sac of our townhouse group in a suburban neighborhood in Sterling, Virginia. "Barking" is a mild way of describing the sound, for a red fox's barking is more scream than bark. (The link leads to someone's recording of a fox barking.) Actually, I was already awake as I could not sleep; Karen was awakened by the sound. When I, already dressed, heard the sound, I went out the front door and saw the fox in the street right in front of our townhouse. We looked at each other as the fox barked a few more times. Then it trotted away past the other townhouses; I followed it a ways in hopes of seeing and hearing it again. I did hear it bark again, but I did not see it because it had slipped into the shadows of the pre-dawn hour. So I returned home and went inside. A few minutes later I heard another strange sound out front, so I opened the door again. I am happy to report that we have a screen door, for right on the front step, pushing up against the screen, was a good-sized cat, loudly mewing to be let into the house! It kept this up -- pushing against the screen and mewing -- for a number of minutes as we looked at each other from our respective sides of the door. Perhaps the cat and the fox had had some kind of wary encounter, and each was seeking avoidance. Christian hospitality would compel us to welcome the stranger, but I must confess I did not open the screen door to let this stranger-cat into our house. Mea culpa. As it is Sunday, I will remember this at confession during the early Eucharist.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Kwanzan Cherry Tree

Exquisitely soft falls the chill April rain
that separates blossom from leaf
and petals the pavement with color,
as if in lamentation for splendor passing.

Beside the Ephemeral Pond

Beside the ephemeral pond,
among the low wild grasses
bent-brown and green,
winter-summer tangled

the earth-scurrying killdeer
nested four mottled eggs,
then brooded, vigilant
in April's lilting uncertainty

which is when we came along
and heard the anxious cry,
then observed, so keenly
the fierce urge toward life

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Some Thoughts on Substitutionary Atonement

Reading a book of essays on NT Wright's thought, and coming out of reading Wright's "How God Became King" and participating in the Good Friday liturgy ....

It seems to me that much of substitutionary atonement thinking is highly individualistic. In this thinking, Jesus substituted for me, for each one of us. That is, Jesus the one man or one person substituted for the one man or one person. In this sense, Jesus capitulates Adam for me, for each of us. Now NT Wright, without denying or dismissing this, contends as well that Jesus capitulates Israel, the nation or people. This would broaden substitutionary atonement to corporate identity and action, not simply individual identity and action. That is, it would broaden it from a narrow emphasis on the sacrificial system alone to encompass the fullness of a people and a body politic (in the broad sense, not simply the political sense); otherwise we reduce the identity and history and formation of Israel, and God's saving action therein, to merely the sacrificial system. What if we then take all this further to recognize that Jesus capitulates not only Israel and humanity but creation itself, the whole of creation. Thus Jesus substitutes for creation in his life, death, resurrection, and even in his ascension (in the sense that God created humanity to rule in creation). That is, Jesus had to die because creation was dead, and only by taking on creation's death could Jesus (God in Jesus) take away creation's death. Thus: sacrifice, substitution, atonement; but not narrowly or solely construed and enacted within the meaning and mechanism of the sacrificial cult as seen in the temple.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vision and Simple Pleasure

Mid day on a January Sunday, and we drive the cold miles of the toll road to visit family for the afternoon. Along one stretch on our right a wintered stand of mature tulip trees -- tall, straight, and well-spaced -- ranges across the rises and ravines through which the highway paves. My heart and spirit lift with the trees every time we pass this way.

We must inculcate in ourselves vision for and simple pleasure in these little instances of quotidian beauty scattered variously around us, else we miss them, we miss them, to the fading of heart and spirit.