Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas morning

it is 9:30 on christmas morning, and i probably should be napping. last night, at midnight, amidst the songs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the word became flesh on altars around the world, as eternity broke into our time. "when all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty word, o lord, leaped down from heaven out of the roal throne, alleluia.'

and he who abhored not the virgin's womb condescended even to my tiny oratory. i was up 'til 2:30, some of the time wandering under the stars, which only occasionally peeked through the clouds which covered the sanctuary. then at 6:00 i was up again, for vespers and lauds and the shepherd's mass, the mass at daybreak. and it is in the gospel of that mass that the text which keeps me pondering, which keeps me awake, occurs. it is one of my favourite lines in all of the gospel: 'mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.'

there is a tendency, it seems, to assume that once mary said 'let it be to me according to thy word,' all would be clear to her. but apparently not. i suspect her life must have been like psalm 119, which i pondered for a while last night before the night was half spent, a long song of continual witness and supplication, hoping to understand this word that had been made flesh within her. i wonder if she is still pondering these things in her heart.

for another tendency we have about mary, it seems, is to make her our lady, the queen of heaven, some of us even calling her mediatrix, while forgetting she remains the maid of galilee. her story is the stuff of madeleine l'engle and charles williams, the story of a poor girl from a backwater town who gets swept up in the salvation of the world in a way that absolutely requires her full involvement.

pondering these things reminds me of what an entirely amazing event we celebrate at this time of the nativity of our lord. it is indeed the beginning of the recreation of the world, and in a way we mortals would probably never expect. for god takes flesh, while remaining very god of very god. in that flesh, the gift, the substance, as the preface of the feast says, of his mother, he will return to the right hand of the father. the holy one is forever changed by this event.

and mary, too, is forever changed. an humble maid is overcome by the holy spirit, becoming the first of the living stones in which the temple of emmanual is built. that is a lot to ponder. if the pious opinion that she was taken bodily into heaven is correct, then it is, as job says, in our flesh that we shall see our redeemer. and this wonder is possible, not because of some great thinking of the likes of augustine or ambrose or gregory (any of them) or aquinas in some great university, but because of the cooperation of a young girl from the poor countryside.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

the days were accomplished, that she should be delivered

Like the dawning of the morning

On the mountains’ golden heights,

Like the breaking of the moon-beams

On the gloom of cloudy nights;

Like a secret told by Angels,

Getting known upon the earth,

the Mother’s Expectation

Of Messiah’s speedy birth.

Thou wert happy, Blessed Mother,

With the very bliss of Heaven,

Since the Angel’s salutation

In thy raptured ear was given;

Since the Ave of that midnight,

When thou wert anointed Queen,

Like a river over-flowing

Hath the grace within thee been.

On the mountains of Judea,

Like the chariot of the Lord,

Thou wert lifted in thy spirit

By the uncreated Word;

Gifts and graces flowed upon thee

In a sweet celestial strife

And the growing of thy Burden

Was the lightening of thy life.

And what wonders have been in thee

All the day and all the night,

While the angels fell before thee,

To adore the Light of Light.

While the glory of the Father

Hath been in thee as a home,

And the sceptre of creation

Hath been wielded in thy womb.

And the sweet strains of the Psalmist

Were a joy beyond control,

And the visions of the prophets

Burnt like transports in thy soul;

But the Burden that was growing,

And was felt so tenderly,

It was Heaven, it was Heaven,

Come before its time to thee.

Oh the feeling of thy Burden,

It was touch and taste and sight;

It was newer still and newer,

All those nine months, day and night.

Like a treasure unexhausted,

Like a vision uconfess’d,

Like a rapture unforgotten,

It lay ever at they breast.

Every moment did that Burden

Press upon thee with new grace;

Happy Mother! Thou art longing

To behold the Saviour’s Face!

Oh his Human face and features

Must be passing sweet to see

Thou hast seen them, happy Mother!

Ah then, show them now to me.

Thou hast waited, Child of David,

And thy waiting now is o’er;

Thou hast seen Him, Blessed Mother

,And wilt see Him evermore!

O His Human Face and Features,

They were passing sweet to see;

Thou beholdest them this moment,

Mother, show them now to me.

Fr. F. F. Faber (1814-63)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

a review before the nativity of christ

the eve of the first sunday of advent, i received a text message from a friend. he had a bible at work, but not a prayer book. what should he read for advent? isaiah. isaiah is the prophet of advent, perhaps even more than john the forefunner. so for the past weeks, readings from isaiah have filled the offices and the liturgy. they have been challenging and poignant. desperate and hopeful.

two years ago i wrote in my journal that, contrary to the school of scholars who search for some past- historical sitz im leben for isaiah, now, as ever, is his sitz-im-lebem. not much has changed in two years, except fear seems to be growing.

it is hard to know where to begin to discuss isaiah's work. he after all is the prophet who saw the glory of the lord even before the shepherds of the gospel according to luke. as the actual feast of the nativity draws near, in the time the eastern church calls the forefeast and the english church calls sapientiatide, the words of isaiah come even thicker, for instance, in the great 'o' antiphons* at vespers in the western rite.

so, as a sort of review for the nativity, i have been re-reading the whole of the book of isaiah today. it's a powerful read, especially in the jerusalem bible, which is made to be read but which does not so easily slip, in my mind at least, into the music of handel yet remains challenging poetry.

here is a sample, from chapter eight:

'. . . Yahweh spoke to me like this

when his hand seized hold of me

to turn me from walking in the path

that this people follows.

Do not call conspiracy

all that this people call conspiracy;

do not fear what they fear,

him you must dread.

He is the sanctuary and the stumbling stone

and the rock . . . .'

the temptation is to go on further. but instead, i invite you to make your own forefeast/sapientiatide review in these last remaining days before christmas. Isaiah's vision of the glory of the lord both resonates with that of mary, the mother of god, and with that of the shepherds, who were sore afraid:

'The mortal man will be humbled, man brought low;

. . .

'Human pride will lower its eyes,

the arrogance of man will be humbled.

. . .

'Human pride will be humbled,

the arrogance of man will be brought low.

Yahweh alone will be exalted

on that day,

and all idols thrown down.

'Go into the hollows of the rocks,

an ino the caverns of the earth,

at the sight of the terror of Yahweh,

at the brilliance of his majesty

when he arises

to make the earth quake' (2:9, 11, 17-19)

Monday, December 19, 2011

these things i command you, that ye love one another

about three years ago, a friend enticed me to facebook.  i signed up with trepidation, fearing it would eat my life.  there is always that possibility, but mostly i have found it a good thing.  i have become 'friends' with a wonderful variety of people, not only those i know from physical meetings, but also others, with whom i am now 'virtual' friends and with whom i share interests, and also books and music and prayers and real matterial-through-the-post-office correspondence.

but facebook has also made me even more aware of what a broken and sad world we find ourselves in these days.  yesterday, the fourth sunday of advent, as we 'prepare' for the coming of our god and king, a friend shared the above picture with me.  there are many ways we continue to slaughter the innocent.  alas, much of our preparation for the advent of the creator of the stars of night consists of getting and spending.

also yesterday the longest discussion amonst my facebook friends consisted mostly of a group of 'christians' telling other 'christians' that 'their' church as bereft of the spirit, or lacking in sacraments, or invalid.  i was reminded of the collect from the american book of common prayer which prays, 'open our eyes, o lord, to see thy hand at work in all creation.'  surely all creation must include all of the church, whatever a pope and a patriarch of constantinope said to each other a thousand years ago.  i mean, how were the people in tintagel to know that in 1054 they must decide whether the holy spirit was now acting through leo or michael.

and i was also reminded of a hymns by one of my favourite if sentimental poet, christina rosetti:  love comes down at christmas.  the link is to a setting by reginald o. morris, sung by the choir of king's college, cambridge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

looking for avalon

'the glory of the lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.'

some days theme themselves.  this has been such a day for me.  it was one of those days of beauty peculiar to the northwest corner, with the temperature hovering around freezing and the clouds hovering around 1500 feet.  it has been the feast of st. lucy and st. herman, two holy people known for great vision, in lucy's case more so after casting out her physical eyes.  and it was a day i read maggie ross' blog post in which she considers the lines from one of last sunday's hymns, '... shine forth and let thy light restore earth's own true loveliness once more.'

it might seem that a day when the cloud covered the sanctuary, so to speak, would be less revelatory than one in which the sun shines clearly.  but often that is not the case.  to veil is often to reveal.  if you doubt this, compare the dance of the seven veils from salome with the dance of goldie hawn fromlaugh-in.  (if you're too young to know of laugh-in, i'm sure youtube can clue you.)

it was a day i found myself out of oatmeal, so, with ross's blog and ponderings about the day's saints dancing in my head, i set off down highway 101 the three miles to my neighborhood walmart.  i know:  walmart!  but if wisdom still 'crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors', there is no place more better described by those words than the local walmart.

walking along highway 101 can be a little disturbing.  one disturbance is the situation:  my 155 pounds of mortal flesh, pacing along at 3 mph., is constantly being approached by masses of steel and silicon weighing 2500 pounds and much more, whooshing by at 63 miles per hour or more. anyone of them could knock me to 'kingdom come'--in heaven, hopefully--at any instant.

more disburbing, and this is spoken to in ross' blog, is the way the drivers of those vehicles treat the road.  the sides are littered with all sorts of garbage, thrown out, i suppose, in order that their view of their fake-wooden dashboards be not blocked.  yet more disturbing is the whole activity of gasoline-powered transport.  western washington is a very blue state, where the same drivers who fuel their suburus and suburbans with the blood of edomite children are quick to rail against 'big oil' at dinner parties.  even the bus which i sometimes take still traffics in the blood of innocens, even if the servings per passenger are smaller.

but i am not looking for more evidence that we live in a seriously deranged world.  so, noticing that many of the cars--the suburus especially--have john muir club stickers on their read windows, i wish that more of them would walk as much as muir--another holy man who only came truly to see after being blinded--and hum a little bit of 'kyrie elieson on the highway that we travel' with mr. mister and look around, knowing that the kingdom of heaven, the isle of avalon, is closer at hand than any of the log trucks.

between farm lake road where i'm 'camped' and the walmart, the highway goes through the valleys of two creeks.  the first one, bagley creek's, is rather gentle, and gives long vistas towards the mountains to the south and the strait of juan de fuca to the north.  i stop at the entrance to the port angeles shooting club to look towards vancouver island, the southern isle in the archelelago that stretches up towards st. herman's spruce island, where he saw in the aleut and creole people around him not a source of slaves for the fur trade, but people just as loved by christ our god as any russians.  as the road curves to go down the much steeper slope of the canyon of morse creek, i am confronted with a hillside not of mere bushes on fire but towering firs ablaze with the crystal fire of winter.  i decide it's too cold to take off my sandles.

but, the glory of the lord was shining round about me, and i was, if not sore, then a bit afraid.  how can one see the glory of the holy, the eternal one, and not be a bit taken with shock and awe?  the book of proverbs says 'the fear of the lord is the beginning', both of knowledge and of wisdom.  but we have done as much as we can to insulate ourselves from thinking of the holy one as fearsome.  unless you are a member of an old calendar russian parish, perhaps, i expect you can't remember the last time you heard a sermon or a hymn suggesting that the holy might be fearsome.  the conglomorate of platitudes which are passed off as 'modern science', which have neither knowledge nor wisdom, have kept the holy safely at bay, warded off by air bags and climate control.  a healthy fear of god would certainly make us think twice before trashing the creation.   it is important to remember that the fear of the lord is only the beginning of wisdom, as is illustrated by the lives of so many saints, remarkably that of st. anthony of the desert, who emerged from his time in a tomb, radiant, saying 'once i feared god, now i love him.'  but if we do not start at the beginning, we will not reach the end.

what is needed is to see beyond the veil of advertising and trash, to see with the eyes of our heart, and then to wonder in the sight.  as ross says, 'it is our attitude that needs enlightening, our eyes that need to be opened, our perspective that needs to be changed so that we see the loveliness inherent to the earth. Such an opening of our eyes would make us recoil in horror at what we have done, undertake to repair the damage, and refuse further despoliation.'  then even walmart is full of people entirely loveable because they are creatures whose creator loves them.  there one is greeted by a joyous one-armed 'retired' fisherman who could never have been happier with a great catch of salmon as he is with each person who comes into his gates.
the trip back was perhaps even more wondrous.  i stopped at morse creek, whose banks still seem to echo the baptist's cry, and a water ouzel performed her miracles just three feet from my rock perch.  then, headed out of the canyon, there was, in the yard of an abandoned house, a paradise tree:  a tree i had never seen before, hung with gold delicious apples, the fruit of the misty isle.  i brought some home as proof that the kingdom of heaven is, indeed, at hand.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

to everything there is a season

i keep finding myself spouting off on facebook about keeping the season of advent during the great american anti-christ spending orgy.  i do this in compassion, i hope, and love for the people who are posessed by the spirit of this sinful age.  but i am very serious about it.  we are trading joy for baubles.  as the prophet of the advent season, isaiah, asks us in one of the readings for the feast of st. andrew, 'wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of david.'

i was reminded again last night of the desperation with which greed and consumption fight against the gifts of darkness as i walked around the little suburban neighborhood in which i live.  houses were garnished with hundreds of watts worth of garish lights; giant inflatable santa clauses and snowmen rose and sank in ther yards, some with recorded 'music.'

but above the din of what thomas merton calls 'the contemporary psychosis,' the silent stars go by.  i would suggest that the treasures of darknes are still waiting to be given to us, if we but still ourselves.  the message of the angels of the holy ones are hovering over the fields if we but quieten ourselves.  and so, i suggest a very simple practice for this season in which we await the coming of the light of the world in the gathering gloom of winter:  each night, go outside and look up into the skies.  see orion and the seven stars.  watch the moon as she rules the night.  then come back inside, and sit quietly in the dark except for one candle.  (if you want to add on each week of advent, that's allright, but this is not an advert for making advent wreaths.)  listen to your breath, and the wind that is the breath moving across the face of the deep of winter.  remember that to everything there is a time, and a purpose for everything under heaven, even the cold and dark of winter.  see if the leanness of the season is not fatness for your soul.