Thursday, October 31, 2013

What counts as silence?

I'm sitting by the open front door, listening to the wind stir the dry leaves still clinging to the enormous oak tree that anchors my front yard.  Crickets are sleepily chirping, the temperature must be hovering around 60oF (based on the formula I use in physical chemistry).  The voices of nervous parents and excited children periodically splash through the door.  The leaves crunch and out of the darkness materializes a sparkling dinosaur or a vending machine or a coterie of rag dolls."Trick or treat?!" They dash off again, advertising their victory ("Dots!") at full volume.

I remember the years when this was a noisy night of chaos, juggling dinner and office hours and our own trick-or-treaters' rounds and baths and bedtimes.  Tonight the silence pours over and around the house, despite the noise from the street.

Why should the wind through the pines, the sand storms, and the squall upon the sea, all count as silence, and not the pounding of the factory machines, the rumbling of the trains at the station, and the clamor of the engines at the intersection? - Madeleine Delbrêl

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sancta sanctis: a reflection for All Saints

Fra Angelico (Wikimedia)
This reflection appeared at  The reflection of the anonymous Carthusian is from The Spirit of Place.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the phrase sancta sancti in its discussion of the communion of saints.

Sancta sanctis. “God’s holy gifts, for God’s holy people.” So intones the celebrant at an Eastern Rite Mass as he elevates the Body and Blood of Christ before the reception of Communion. At this moment, in the presence God, who was given up for us, given to us, we are named sancti, the holy ones of God. Saints.

In one dusty corner of my mind, the Solemnity of All Saints reminds me of the times I dug up odd props for my kids to carry — carpenter’s squares and swords, pilgrim’s staffs and fish — as they dressed up as various saints for plays and pageants. At other moments, I am reminded of my mother’s face as her six children and husband of nearly 50 years gathered around her bed, calling upon all the saints as she went to join them. Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis. St. Joseph, pray for us.

Where my imagination fails is seeing myself as a saint, able to grasp what St. John says in the second reading for All Saints, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”

I sympathize with the anonymous Carthusian monk, who in his homily for All Saints says, “The trouble is that we are called to be saints, not just good people … we are called to be holy as God is holy.” As difficult as it can be to be virtuous, to be wise, to avoid hurting others, the call to sainthood seems to demand yet more of us.

Would I recognize a saint if I met one in the street? Or saw one in the mirror? What makes a saint? Virtues, certainly. Hope, faith, and love. Good works, of course. Mercy and justice. Or are these just the fruits of holiness, wonders my nameless Carthusian, what happens to a saint along the way?

Perhaps sainthood begins not with the determination to be virtuous, but with a spark of grace struck in a soul. Do we begin to be saints when we notice something of God’s Spirit burning within us and choose to return it freely and wholly to the Lord? When we elect to open our hearts so that the light within streams forth, more and more freely?

What makes a saint? It’s the response to the psalm for All Saints that tells us, I think. “Lord, this is the people who longs to see your face.” Who can stand in God’s holy place? The psalmist enumerates some of the virtues expected of a saint, but in the end says such virtues are characteristic of those who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Origen, a third century theologian and Father of the Church, in reflecting on the 24th psalm implies that our yearning to experience the fullness of God is what changes us, what impels us to virtue and to mercy, what makes us saints. To walk in the way of perfection, is to walk toward God.

On this solemnity of saints recognized and unrecognized, hear St. Augustine’s challenge to become what you receive. Sancta sanctis. See what is holy. Become holy. Long to be a saint.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Women at the Ambo: Preaching from a distance

I'm still pondering Jean Molesky-Poz's "At the Ambo" at America Magazine about women (and the laity in general) preaching,  prompted partlyby having spent several hours preaching from behind an ambo in a chapel last week, albeit outside of the context of a Eucharistic celebration and partly by this woman who is wondering if it OK to blog daily reflections on the scriptures.

Last week (the 15th, on the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church) was also the 37th anniversary of Inter Insigniores in which the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith summed up the theological case for ordaining only men (and thereby restricting preaching from the ambo during Mass to men).  I wondered precisely what that document had to say about women preaching, so I went back and read it.

The CDF makes it clear that they do not see St. Paul's prohibition of women teaching as  culturally inflected, but as "bound up with the divine creation." 
However, the Apostle's forbidding of women to speak in the assemblies (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Ti, 2:12) is of a different nature, and exegetes define its meaning in this way: Paul in no way opposes the right, which he elsewhere recognises as possessed by women, to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:15); the prohibition solely concerns the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly. For Saint Paul this prescription is bound up with the divine plan of creation (1 Cor 11:7; Gen 2:18-24): it would be difficult to see in it the expression of a cultural fact.  Inter Insigniores (10/15/76)
 In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says,
A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. 1 Cor 11:17
The newly revised NAB notes, with respect to this verse that
"Paul is alluding basically to the text of Gn 1:27, in which mankind as a whole, the male-female couple, is created in God’s image and given the command to multiply and together dominate the lower creation. But Gn 1:24 is interpreted here in the light of the second creation narrative in Gn 2, in which each of the sexes is created separately (first the man and then the woman from man and for him, to be his helpmate, Gn 2:20–23), and under the influence of the story of the fall, as a result of which the husband rules over the woman (Gn 3:16). This interpretation splits the single image of God into two, at different degrees of closeness." 
Ah, so women are created in the image of God, but an image that isn't as close to God as that of men. I will admit that I hadn't quite appreciated that this was the root of the issue.  Men can teach and preach because they directly reflect God's image for us, women reflect God at one remove.  Women thus necessarily preach from a distance, and this (in Paul's view) makes them inherently unable to teach authoritatively.

How does this notion of "different degrees of closeness" in being image and likeness of God play with the notion that this likeness in image rests chiefly in the soul?  Are women's souls different from men's souls?  Less "like" to God? Equal in dignity, but lesser in image?

Image is Georges de la Tour's Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.  Mary Magdalen was called by Augustine, an apostle to the apostles.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Women at the Ambo: Homilists for the Homeless

In the latest issue of America Magazine (on women in the life of the Roman Catholic Church) Jean Molesky-Poz ("At the Ambo") wonders what we might gain if we could hear homilies from a broader range of voices, if we permitted women — and lay men — to preach occasionally at the Eucharist.

The latest volume from Deacon Jim Knipper's project Homilists for the Homeless, Naked and You Clothed Me, offers a chance to imagine what it might sound like if lay women and men were permitted to preach on the Sunday readings. Of the 21 contributors to this volume, eight are women and three are Roman Catholic lay men.  Full disclosure, I contributed two reflections to this book:  for the 2nd Sunday of Lent and the 7th Sunday of Easter.

All of the proceeds from the book, while contains homilies for each of the Sundays for next year (Cycle A) are going to the poor, including Newborns in Need, which provides infant clothes and other supplies to needy families with new babies.  I'm privileged to be alongside contributors you might hear preaching from the ambo at a Roman Catholic celebration of the Eucharist:  Dan Horan, OFM (who blogs at Dating God and is a columnist at America), the prolific James Martin, SJ; Rick Malloy SJ (my neighbor's son, who blogs at a Jesuit's Jottings and writes on occasion for the Huffington Post) and those you would not:  Rev. Jan Richardson (a fellow sometime contributor at RevGalBlogPals); Michael Leach (whose sometimes haunting, sometimes funny, always beautiful essays grace NCR these days) and the inestimable Fran Szpylczyn of There Will be Bread.

"This is the garment of glory we weave for ourselves — the cloak we wrap around the shivering man in the street, the tablecloth we spread on the table at the soup kitchen, the blanket we tuck around our dying spouse." — from Naked and You Clothed Me, 7th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A.

The book can be pre-ordered at Clear Faith Publishing, shipping November 1.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sounds of Japan: The Jesuit Bell at Shunko-in

Two years ago when my students and I traveled to Japan we visited Shunkō-in, a monastic cloister within the Myōshin-ji temple complex at the edge of Kyoto.  Shunkō-in hosts Zen meditation instruction in English, our reason for visiting, but also houses the bell rescued from the Jesuit church when it was destroyed in 1587.

We stayed two nights at the temple this year, once again getting instruction in Zen meditation from the vice-abbot whose voice you hear in the video clip.  We also enjoyed his tour of the cloister, including a chance to hear the bell, to see where it had been buried by his grandfather to keep it from being melted down during the second World War, and to learn a bit more about the ways to view Zen gardens (sit down inside, rather than stand on the porch, a perspective which I noted did enhance the sense of borrowed landscape, the way in which things outside of the garden seem to become an integral part of its composition).

A post about the bell written for the feast of Paul Miki and his companions last year.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Tale of Gaijin

Murasaki Shikibu (Hiroshige II)
The Tale of Genji is considered by many scholars to be one of the earliest known examples of a novel.  Written by Murasaki Shikibu, the psuedonym of a woman at the Japanese imperial court in the 10th century, Genji's adventures sprawl across time and space, occupying 6 volumes in English translation and covering several generations.  Think Game of Thrones, but warmer.

Our adventures in Japan were more limited in scope, though we did see several spots mentioned in the Tale.

I blogged the trip for the college, so if you want to read the story of the travels, here is a list and links:

Dawn Departures (Bryn Mawr to Kyoto in 26 hours)
Mizu, Yuzu and Mitsu (shrines filled with water, hot sun, honey and citrus)
Borrowed Landscapes (dry gardens, the stick of compassion)
Sitting Zazen (talking with a Zen monk about the desert fathers, temples and gardens)
Bamboo and Bento (the bamboo forest and bentos on a bus)

Rough travel (climbing a mountain - sans a path - and esoteric Buddhism)

Koya-san (10th century Buddhist monastic city)
On the Women's Trail (women weren't allowed until the end of the 19th century, but circled the mountain on this trail)
Spaces in translation (Would you believe 5 different trains, a bus, a fleet of taxis and a ferry?  We moved from Koya to Kamikatsu)

In the news (in Japan!)
Fish Sticks (Nakamura-san and the charcoal maker)
Bound in (visiting Nakamura's hermitage, binding books)
Cave meditations (the zero waste village, meditating in a cave, Japanese hot springs)

And yes, all the towns and cities we stayed in began with "k"....except for Osaka and that installment isn't quite up yet.

I look at the list and suddenly am not suprised to be as tired as I am.

Gaijin are foreigners...

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Breathing space

Today I'm with my students in Koya-san, a Buddhist monastic enclave in Wakayama prefecture, where we've been for three days.  Founded 1200 years ago, this place has a long history of contemplative practice.  And after the first four days in Kyoto, where we sometimes had to move quickly from one spot to another, standing up from sitting zazen to run to a bus one morning, dashing up the hill to make an appointment another afternoon, there is more breathing time here.  Right now I'm sitting outside in the garden at the temple where we are staying, catching my breath, catching up on some writing. 

The evening meditation at the temple where we are staying is among the most utterly still and silent experiences I have had.  The monks chant, sitting as typical Western choir monks would sit, then the priest leading the service settles himself on his cushion in the front, facing the same direction as the assembly, rings a bell and we settle in for 40 minutes of silent meditation.  The walls of this hall are thick, the setting dim (candle lit) and the ceiling low and I wonder if that adds to the sense of enveloping silence and stillness. It is an extraordinary experience.

Tomorrow we have another long day of travel taking us to our final stop, Kamikatsu, where we will stay for 4 nights. 

Meanwhile, the cover of Liguorian this month is apt.  You can see it and a teaser for my article here.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Stripping the forests bare

Yesterday we went to Tenryu-ji and met with Thomas Kirchener, an American who has been a Zen monk for many years.  He talked about the life of a the monastery, the ways in which it balances intense periods of meditation with time away and time on physical tasks.  I enjoyed the connections he made to the writings and practices of the Desert Fathers.

Here he is showing the students where a monk would store his futon, to roll out onto the tatami to sleep each night. There is one drawer below for other belongings.  Stripping to the bare necessities.

You can read the latest adventures of the crew sitting zazen and in the bamboo forest.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Honey from the rock

It's hot in Kyoto, at a time when I thought I was done with summer, yesterday found us meditating in heat heavy with water.  Monday was characterized by water - with visits to Kiyumizudera, a temple built around a spring, and Honen-in, a quieter space with water features and a tiny exquisite moss garden.

Tuesday it was dry rock gardens, shimmering with heat, the cool night meditations that were done there left to our imaginations.

Read the adventures of the crew on Monday here.