28 August 2015

in Godde we trust



While perusing Mark Mattison’s new translation of the Gospel of Thomas, I noticed that he quotes from the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament.  “The Divine Feminine Version?  What’s that?”—I asked myself.  (Well, maybe not in those specific terms!)

I discovered that it’s the work of the Christian Godde Project.  Fun fact:  the word “Godde” is pronounced just like “God.”  The idea is to deal with the millennia of masculine baggage that “God” has acquired.  Mary Matthews comments on the word, saying, “The spelling ‘Godde’ is intended to be a visual ‘speed bump’—a constant reminder that Godde is no more a male human being than Godde is a female human being, or for that matter a third-gender glimbitz from Alpha Centauri.”

This version of the New Testament is available through the Creative Commons License.  (Give credit where credit is due, everyone.)

Here’s how Jesus asks us to pray:

Our Mother in heaven,
we honor your holy name.
Let your reign come.
Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us our daily bread today.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Do not put us in harm’s way,
but rescue us from evil. 

(The image, “Sophia Wisdom,” is from stottilien.com)

06 August 2015

light of transfigured Hiroshima



From the earliest times, in the dim recesses of the past, the quest for fire characterized the emergence of Homo Sapiens (and likely other proto-human species, such as the Neanderthals).  Fire provides two desirable qualities:  light and heat.

Today is all about the fire of light and heat.  Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of the Lord.  (The Revised Common Lectionary places it on the Sunday right before Lent.  It serves as the transition from Epiphany, when Jesus is revealed to the world, and Lent, when the road of discipleship is revealed.)  But today is the traditional date for its observation.

On the mountaintop, the fire of the light of God is seen shining in the face of Christ.  Peter, James, and John are blinded by the glory.

Today also marks the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, one of the worst crimes in human history.  (As an added obscenity, the first atomic bomb test was nicknamed “Trinity.”)  The fire of heat blinded the residents of an entire city.  (It happened three days later to the residents of Nagasaki.) 

Out of the horror, the fire of Hiroshima has been transfigured into the light of peace.  The Hiroshima Peace Memorial bears testimony that war does not have the final word.  The transfigured one, the Prince of Peace, takes the cold darkness of our world and transforms it with the fire of warm radiance.

11 July 2015

prefer nothing



In chapter 72 of his Rule, Benedict counsels monastics, saying, “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”  Having that focus, that direction, on the love that will not let us go, puts life in a proper orientation.

Today is the feast of St. Benedict.  It is a welcome reminder in the hazy summer heat (here in Tennessee) that in times of transition, such as the one we’re going through, the love of Christ is what we need to guide us.

As once again we consider the senseless murder of our black sisters and brothers, the symbolism of the Confederate flag, and the apathy that threatens all of us, we need a loving kick in the butt! 

[The photo is by oblate Jo Clarke of the stained glass window in the Eucharistic Chapel at Mount St. Benedict Monastery]

30 June 2015

being with and doing for



An article written a couple of years ago speaks well to our situation today.  In “Bearing Witness to the Pain of Violence,” Yonat Shimron speaks about the murder rate in Durham, North Carolina, which is more than twice the state average.  (The large majority being young African-American men killed by firearms.)  Members of the faith community tried various approaches in response.  They worked on policies to resist gun violence.  They enlisted the help of police and other officials.  Unfortunately, the state legislature outlawed efforts by cities who wanted to regulate guns.  As important as public policy is, it became clear that something else needed to be done.

In 1997, a vigil was held after yet another citizen was slain.  The Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham began employing vigils as a way of standing with those touched by violence.  Around the country, groups use vigils in their own communities.  One example is the Benedictines for Peace in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Whenever someone in the city of Erie is killed by an act of violence, they organize a vigil at the site of the death.

Too often, we like to turn this type of work over to the professionals—social workers, psychiatrists, police officers, and others—and then wash our hands of the matter.  The folks in Durham think that’s a mistake.  It’s noted, “Those professionals are trained to ‘work for’ the individual or family.  They can’t offer the kind of relationship that comes when people of faith provide what psychologist Carl Rogers called ‘unconditional positive regard.’  These kinds of relationships perpetuate inequality and keep people strangers to one another.  The coalition’s experience is that when people are treated as equals, they form deep and abiding bonds of trust.”

Of course, this applies to all kinds of situations, not just cases of murder.  In the Bible, the friends of Job provide a classic example of what to do—and what not to do!  After Job loses his children, his possessions, and his health, his best friends get together and see if they can help.

Chapter 2, verses 11 to 13 tell the story.  “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite.  They met together to go and console and comfort him.  When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.  They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

Job’s suffering has been so intense that at first they don’t even recognize him.  Some of us can relate to that, perhaps during a visit to the hospital.  The person we’re there to see might have been so ravaged by illness that we think we’re in the wrong room.  “Who is this?” we wonder.

Job’s friends understand that the best thing they can do is to do nothing at all.  Just being there is what’s required.  They keep vigil with him.  Sadly, we know what happens after that.  When Job speaks and shouts out his anguish, his buddies decide to engage him in theological debate.  At that point, things go south in a hurry!

The point is that when we’re faced with questions which are sometimes literally matters of life and death, can we see the difference between “being with” and “doing for”?  Both are important, but there’s no doubt that “being with” is usually so much more uncomfortable.  We want to do the good deed, and then get the heck out of there.

In our own case, with St. Lydia’s Place, we want to make real-world contributions.  As vital as it is to teach and reflect, if it stops right there, it’s hard to see how that helps anyone else.  Taking Lydia as a model for ministry surely involves the hospitality we see in Acts 16.  Her conversion demonstrates both a mystical listening to God and a prophetic standing with the apostles in the midst of opposition. 

We know that humility is required.  We confess our ignorance and shortcomings.  We want and need help from others.  Those who read this might be moved to reach out.  Can we hear from you?  Maybe we can help each other.  What are ways in which we can “keep vigil” in our communities?

25 June 2015

let's go boom!


This song is now a few years old, but with tomorrow being the International Day against Torture, and thinking about the war that enshrined torture as government policy, it still seems appropriate.  The US invasion of Iraq lit a fuse that is still burning 12 years later.  Let's join with System of a Down and say "Boom!"  The peace of God will still prevail!

02 June 2015

beauty in darkness



I see in the scriptural book of Job, with all of its darkness and flailing around, a dark treasure in the depths of its obsidian beauty.  Of course, not everyone feels that attraction.  The book is often the recipient of disgust at the horrific unfairness of the suffering of the just.  I’m sure it’s easier for me to appreciate the brutal poetry because I haven’t felt the sense of utter abandonment by my God and by everything that I love and hold dear.

Or has that desensitized me to it all?

Job has been subjected to rigorous study and sympathy since ancient times.  Almost everything under the sun has been twisted from the character and the book that bears his name.  In recent times, the difference between the prose sections at the beginning and end of the book—and the poetry that comprises the majority of the book—has been especially highlighted.  The prose and poetry have been pitted against each other as almost mutually exclusive.  I can see some truth in that.

The prose is portrayed as telling the story of the legendary Job, the upright, the patient one who accepts whatever fate comes his way.  The poetry is the angry, impatient Job who is (literally) sick and tired of putting up with the sh*t that God, the universe, whatever powers-that-be have served up to him.  Some commentators of today dismiss the efforts of those in the past who reconciled the “two Jobs.”  The patient Job was alleged to have silenced the impatient Job.  It was just too hard to deal with his rage and blasphemy!

Mark Larrimore in The Book of “Job”: A Biography looks at this.  He notes that “some premodern readers saw the poetic portion as showing how a virtuous person grieves, and as showing the true heart of ‘patience’ to be closer to protest than moderns imagine.  Job’s most rebellious words were often explained away as driven by physical pain and grief, but premodern readers did not simply ignore them.  Closer experience of the agonies of sickness and loss may, indeed, have made them better listeners than moderns are, hearing the anguish and delirium of the flesh where we may just see a mind pushed to its limits.  To them Job’s protests are remarkable not for how far they go but for going no farther.”

The defiance of Job is a faithful defiance.  It isn’t easy to explain—or to hear.  We too quickly want to write it off as the ranting of one who is (unjustly) pissed off at God and at the world.  I struggle with that when I am confronted with the vitriol of those in pain.  Too often, I also come up with my own explanations.  I don’t listen, and I don’t listen in faith.

In the darkness, there are both screams and silence. 

[The quote is from Mark Larrimore, The Book of “Job”: A Biography (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2013), Kindle edition, Chapter 5, section 3, paragraph 4.  The image is a painting by William Blake.]