Sunday, December 28, 2014

Who's rejoicing? Good Christian Men or all of us?

Heinrich Suese
In dulci jubilo,
nun singet und seid froh!
Unsers Herzens Wonne
leit in præsepio
und leuchtet als die Sonne
matris in gremio.
Alpha es et O.

On his FaceBook page, Deacon Greg Kandra has a photo of a hymnal turned to a hymn titled "Good Christian Friends Rejoice" with the comment "Really?"  He found the substitution of "men" to "friends" awkward, but that is not where the discussion went.  One comment smugly noted "That's how it was in my old church's hymnal, and we sang it EVERY YEAR. I sang the real words, though." Mmm.  Unlikely. The 'real words' — or at least the original — are quoted above. Pretty sure no one was singing those today.

The discussion has gotten sad and ugly, many people want a return to "the original" or purport to sing "the real words."  And then there is the litmus test crowd, real Roman Catholics would not care about the use of the men to mean "all people": "any woman who would be offended by that isn't in my church anyway..."  Or "Our language does reflect that male is the general form of humanity and female a special form; the male is prior. To eliminate this would require much more dramatic changes in our language. There are woman who want to do that, but most of them see that they cannot be Christians. " Heavens, someone needs to take some Latin, and read all of Genesis, not just the one story where woman is created from man.

But the real irony of the whole thing is that "Good Christian men rejoice" is a far stretch from the original, which begins "In dulci jubilo, nun singet und seid froh!" In sweet jubilation, let us sing and rejoice!  No men, Christian or otherwise are referenced in this verse or either of the other two.

All this said, it's a hymn with historic significance. The text of the hymn is from the 14th century. It first appears in the life of Dominican mystic Heinrich Suese, and may be the oldest example of a vernacular Christmas carol.  It's a macaronic text (one that mixes Latin and vernacular rather indiscriminately).

While I'm not thrilled to know that my sense that men refers to the male of the species and is not an inclusive term makes me unwelcome to some of my faith, or less than truly Christian, I am pleased to thereby have discovered Suese, who defended Meister Eckhart against heresy, and recorded the words to the lovely hymn "In dulci jubilo..."  Let us rejoice!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light

Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato
via Wikimedia commons
Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation," as the Nicene Creed puts it, "came down from heaven." 

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see.

— Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubters Dictionary

I'm not a Christmas romantic.  At one level, I cherish the holiday trappings:  the cookies, the tree with the ornaments, the oddly useful things tucked into stockings, the carols.  The traditions which tie me to family and community of faith. There is beauty here, and indeed, grace.

But this is a holy day, one that I find more wrenching than Easter. This emptying, Mary of Jesus, the pouring forth of the Word into the world.  To hold God within you, to feel His movements, then labor to send him forth, into a darkness she had no wish to inhabit.  To be riven by Light, that God might dwell among us.  This is not touching, it is terrifying.

On the last Christmas of his life, Alfred Delp, SJ reflected on Christmas as an event that “burned away our romantic concepts.”  In a dim church tonight I watched the flames skitter across the charcoal in the censer, swung it gently until the smoke rose, then watched the presider add incense, and crush the briquet, until it flared brightly and carried our prayers aloft.  I heard the words of the Gospel through a fragrant veil, watched the flames in the candle burn away.  "The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear."

My friend Robin is preaching about cataclysmic shifts tonight, about how the ordinary combines to form the extraordinary. Mysteries that take our breath away.  Unthinkable darkness run through by Light from Light.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The sacrament of puttering

"I remembered an older friend who kept backing up into things, who posted a note on his dashboard that said, Slowly, and Majestically; i wrote s.a.m on my wrist. I pulled on some baggy pants, in case I accidentally ate a few more cookies than might be ideal. THEN, and only then, I got up, and went to the kitchen, where I put the coffee on, and did the sacrament of putter while it brewed."  — Annie Lamott on FaceBook
I had a list.  A list of things to do.  Laundry.  Baking.  Grading.  Wrapping. Letters to write.  Books to read.  I had plans.  Plans to cross things off my list.

Pope Francis in his remarks to the Curia yesterday, spoke about the ills that might afflict not only Curial officials, but all of us.  He wondered if excessive planning was one such ill, in which we fall into the temptation to lock up and drive the Holy Spirit1, to thwart the power of the unexpected, the unimaginable.  I've been thinking about overturned plans all week, after Robin's sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and the sermon by one of the Augustinians at Mass on Saturday night, about what happens when things get turned upside down.

So that well-planned list?  I crossed nothing off.  Instead I served at the funeral of a friend, holding the censer by his casket, watch through a veil of incense as the pastor prayed him over the threshold to eternal life.  I went to the market and braved the traffic in the parking lot, thinking I should write s.a.m. on my wrist, too.  Slowly and majestically, rather than slowly and angrily.  Slow, as it turned out, wasn't negotiable.  I went to the grocery store and waited in line (slowly and majestically), and rejoiced with the woman in front of me that our sons would be home with us today.  I admired his photo on her phone, a handsome young man shaking the President's hand.  I drove The Egg to an appointment.  I bought boxes.  I made dinner (that wasn't on the list) while The Egg deep cleaned the kitchen.

I puttered about in the sacred.  Slowly and majestically.  My Sagehen Egg2 noted how much he enjoyed this slow day, just being present to what there was to do (those kitchen counters), and who there was to be with.

"Despite all our attempts at domestication, God deals in surprises."  Margaret Guenther

1. Most of the translations I have seen used "domesticate but the language is stronger in the Italian: Preparare tutto bene è necessario, ma senza mai cadere nella tentazione di voler rinchiudere e pilotare la libertà dello Spirito Santo...
2. Sagehens are his school mascot. The Egg is a nod to his role in "Shrek the Musical."


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent Ordo

"Tree Cave, by RA Paulette, Feb 2013" 
by Max shred - Canon Digital Camera. 
Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons
Commenter Katherine wondered on my last post how I carve out retreat space within the end of the year chaos.  Probably in much the same way Ra Paulette carves these incredible spaces out of the sandstone caves in the desert. Painfully, slowly and by hand.

This Advent, having decided to try to carve out what retreat time I could within daily life (as my director of the Long Retreat would say - channelling Ignatius, "adapt, adapt, adapt.."), I began by thinking what were the retreat essentials for me.  Besides post-it notes and my own pillow.

They sound obvious.  Prayer, liturgy, confession, sacred reading, good preaching, walks.  Structure, a daily ordo, with a sensitivity to the Spirit's movements.  And solitude. Right.  With a line outside my office.

The caves were a helpful image.  I was not going to be able to construct a cathedral sized retreat over the course of these three weeks, this was going to scratched out of the stone of my calendar, carved with the tools I had to hand, not some precision sandblaster.

Mass and morning prayer are already there, a skeleton on which to hang this retreat time.

So, I picked a book of Advent readings off the shelf (Watch for the Light which includes readings from Alfred Delp SJ, Annie Dillard , Dorothy Day, and Thomas Aquinas).  One a night.

I put as inviolable on the calendar two events:  an evening of Advent lessons and carols, and an Advent vespers service (with a short talk on the women of Advent:  Anna, Elizabeth and Mary).

I did the same with confession.  Yes, it would be lovely to make an appointment to celebrate the sacrament with my long time confessor.  Instead, it would have to be a gray Saturday in a cold, dark church.  Grace wins out , regardless of the space.  Ex opere operato.  Grace wins out, even with a perfunctory confessor (which I hasten to add was not the case!).

Ah...yes, and solitude.  I've been parking further up the hill, necessitating a walk each evening.  I've seen snow fall, pressed into a relentless rain, wondered at stars spangled across the sky and at the deep blues and pinks of these Advent sunsets.  It's five minutes -- and full of grace.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A Long Retreat

I would run away from it all if I could.  The end of the semester chaos hath descended.  Stacks of grading totter on my shelf, no sooner cleared than the next assignment comes sliding under my door.  Exams are being written (more grading!).

Fraught meetings alternate with cheery social events (often featuring the same players).  Writing deadlines peer 'round the corner, waiting to pounce when I'm not looking.  I long for a hermitage to flee to.

When Sunday's homilist talked of Advent as a long retreat, I was transported six Advents back, to an end of the semester that was arguably crazier than this one (surgery, overseas trip, major project for the college, writing), and the last days before I left to make a long retreat, the Long Retreat — the Spiritual Exercises.

I've been itchy to get away, to spend a night on retreat, but for various reasons cannot.  So instead, I'm making a long retreat, carving out spaces for silence and prayer in my days and in my week. Slowly, painfully, by hand (much like sculptor Ra Paulette has carved these caves into the desert).

Photo is of my sunrise at Eastern Point, on the Long Retreat.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Silent preaching: Sick and you cared for me we cannot preach the word of God by our mouths, we may do so with our hands. — from Chapter 28 of Consuetudines Cartusiae

Guigo, the fifth prior of the Carthuisan monastery of the Grand Chartreuse, 1was reflecting on the work of copyists, not of homilists, in this line from his collection of Carthusian customs, but I thought of his image of preaching with our hands when I was asked to contribute two homilies to the third volume of of the Homilists for the Homeless project.

Edited by Deacon Jim Knipper, Sick and You Cared For Me contains homilies for each of the Sundays of Year B in the lectionary cycle.2 Each of the writers contributed his or her work to the book, preaching literally with their hands, and all the proceeds go to care for the poor.  We have raised more than thirty thousand dollars with the first two volumes.

I am preaching on the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time (which won't appear next year, or any year soon) and on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. The homily for the 9th Sunday reflects on the story of the man with the withered hand, who was healed by Jesus on the Sabbath - about Simon the Stylite on his pillar and the ways in which Sabbath is a time for noticing.  On the 21st Sunday, where the readings are from Joshua ("as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord") and John ("these teachings are hard"), it's about Ignatius and the meditation on the two Standards. Choose.3 

There are homilies from many voices and traditions. Contributors include Richard Rohr, Jesuits Rick Malloy SJ (his mother was my neighbor for many years) and James Martin, Mike Leach, Fran Szpylczyn, Jan Richardson, Mags Blackie (how many books of homilies have two Ph.D. physical chemists in them?!).

I am giving away a copy of Sick and You Cared For Me to celebrate the start of the new liturgical year. Leave a comment, and on Friday, I'll draw a winner.  Prefer a sure thing?  You can order a copy from Clearfaith.

1. This is the monastery featured in Into Great Silence - a beautiful film that opens in Advent and covers a full liturgical year.
2.  Homilies for cycles A and C are in Naked and You Clothed Me, and Hungry and You Fed Me, both of which won awards from the Catholic Press Association.
3.  I chose in writing this not to reflect on the "wives be submissive to your husbands" passage from Paul.