Wednesday, March 31, 2010

fruit: consumers or producers

walking this morning through the sunlight and the jonquil blooms and the birdsongs to the library this, where i use the computer, i saw a headline in the arkansas democrat gazette: "consumers' mood sunnier." am i the only one who finds living in a society which encourages us to define ourselves as "consumers" very unfortunate? once again that old serpent, the deceiver, tries to beguile us: "you will not die. we have the consumers' protection act."

of course central to our civilization's mythology is the story of the tree of good and evil and our first ancester's eating of it. they (we) have already everything we need, but there is one other thing, the forbidden thing, which we just must consume as well. it is not enough to know the good; we want to know good and evil.

this story, however one understands it, is compelling. we discuss it often. i have often remarked on a saturday about ten years ago when during the course of the day i was at four gatherings, of very various "religious persuasions," where the discussion turned to eve and adam and the apple.

not often in those discussions, however, is the role of obedience discussed. the gospel according to john is in many ways a commentary--a midrash if one wants to use a fancy word--on the first chapters of genesis. if that is a correct reading of john's work, then the tree of knowledge may not be an apple, as it is in so many paintings, but a vine. i think there are many benefits of considering the tree this way. think, for instance, of the story of noah and its outcome.

so, jesus has washed his disciples feet and told them a good many things about his leaving and the coming of the comforter, and they begin to walk to gesthemani. they pass the front of the temple, with its great golden carving of the vine. "i am the true vine," he says, "and my father is the husbandman. every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. . . . if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. herein is my father glorified, that ye bear much fruits; and so shall ye be my disciples. even as the father hath loved me, i also have loved you: abide ye in my love. if ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as i have kept my father's commandments, and abide in his love." (john 15:1 ff., rv)

there are great problems for people and nations when one ceases to be a producer and begins to be only a consumer. (need i mention the american economic demise?) william temple, in his wonderful little book, readings in st. john's gospel, discusses how one may be a producer (london: st. martin's, 1961, pp. 246-247):

"we are in the vine. are we bearing fruit? no amount of ascetic discipline or devotional fervour is a substitute for the practical obedience which alone is 'fruit.' that obedience however is not a matter of 'works,' though these will follow from it, and if they are lacking, there is no 'fruit.' obedience is to god's command; 'and this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his son jesus christ, and love one another even as he gave us commandment' (,i>i john iii, 23)."

so simple. but so unlike what i so often want to do.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

paschal moon: christ our passover is sacrificed

through the pine trees, i watched the paschal moon rise last night. it was a very poignant time. i kept thinking about jesus' last week before his crucifixion, with the moon becoming full over the mount of olives, the moon which is the lesser light, to rule the night, flooding jerusalem across the valley with it's pale light, the jerusalem that killed the prophets. i could not but think of the line in john's gospel (13:20), when judas iscariot had just gone out: "it was night."

for the past few years my lenten discipline has included a "word," as the desert fathers would say, a "koan" was our buddhist brothers and sisters say. my friend michael carroccino reminded me that i had put my musings on line in the past, and that he had found them helpful. i have not mentioned them so far this year, because another part of my discipline has been to try to blather less. but now that lent is turning into easter, it's time to consider some of my discoveries.

my word for the season has been from genesis:

"and the lord god planted a garden eastward in eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.
and out of the ground made the lord god to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2:8-9)

it is one of the most commented-upon pieces of writing in all the world. over the next few days i will share some of them. but for now i want to remark that almost all of the writers, from the first to the twentieth centuries, agree that eventually, the man would be granted the food of the tree of life. but, he should wait until the time was full. there is a bit of reflection of this in the collect for palm sunday:

"almighty and everliving god, who, of thy tender love
towards mankind, hast sent thy son our savior jesus christ
to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the
cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his
great humility: mercifully grant that we may both follow the
example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his
resurrection; through the same jesus christ our lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy spirit, one god,
for ever and ever. amen."

"grant that we . . . may follow the example of his patience . . ."

within that context, the idea that now, at the full mooon, jesus' hour had come, becomes even more important. and it is not just our lord's hour, but the hour of the whole world. it is the hour, as s. matthew's gospel calls it, of the regeneration (19:28). there is a haunting scene in the movie, "the passion of the christ," in which jesus, carrying his cross, our tree of life, falls; mary his mother meets him, and he says to her, "look, mother. i am making all things new."
allthough we sometimes forget it, that is what we are remembering this week.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

4 march: owen of lastingham, companion of chad

st. chad's feast was the second of march, but chad has quite a following. one of his followers, owen, has a feast just two days later. owen was a monk at lastingham where chad had a cell and oratory. continuing the tradition of the celtic saints, chad often prayed all night while standing in the water. the well where he prayed is still at lastingham, although rather more decorous now. probably one would be discouraged from standing in it naked to pray.

we know of owen primarily because he was outside of chad's oratory, probably on st. matthias' day, and heard wonderful singing. when he asked chad, he was told that angels had joined the older saint in prayer, and told him that what he had heard were angels who had told him thatin one week they would return to escort his soul to heaven.

indeed, that was what happened: chad died seven days later after a short bout of what was probably yellow fever.

this is not an unusual story in the lives of orthodox saints. many of them are told when their day of repose will be, both in the celtic lands and in the east. modern "historians" of course discount these stories, saying that they are part of the necessary lore of hagiography. what i find distressing is that not only do modern historians discount these stories, but much of the "church" does as well. not only is the idea of angelic visitation considered impossible, but the belief in life that survives death is becoming less and less acceptable.

of course, if there is no afterlife, and no judgment, then whatever we can get away with is acceptable. we seldom say it so bluntly, but it is certainly how we live. consider haiti, whichi choose because it has received so much publicity lately. americans are busy contratulating ourselves because we are so generous in "aid" to haiti--although not so generous as we are in care of our pets, for instance. but we do not much consider that the present conditions in haiti are largely the result of american policy since haiti won its independence from france.

yes, of course, the problems of a place like haiti are complex and huge, and you or i cannot easily "fix" them quickly. it is always easier to knock humpty dumpty off the wall than it is to put him back together again. but to ignore the results of our everyday actions in the lives of those whom jesus called "the least of these" is not acceptable, either.

the feast of st. chad is also complex, too. chad has been my patron now for 18 years, and only this year did i learn that he is the patron of healing springs. how wonderful a concidence now that i live in eureka springs, and visit at least two healing springs almost every day.