Sunday, November 29, 2015

Dwell on These Things ~ First Sunday of Advent

St. Elizabeth Working for the Poor, Marianne Stokes
If I had to choose one image that embodied my idea of the perfect Advent, this would be it.


The Reed of God ~ Emptiness

As I was reading this morning in preparation for writing this post, I remembered why it's difficult to write about Caryll Houselander's work. I see a passage that I want to quote, and then I can't figure out where to stop. It's impossible because almost every paragraph is quotable. It's also rather difficult to comment on what she says because she says everything so well, there's not a lot left to say--but we will do our best.

I also figured out that there is no way I can cover all three sections of Part I in one post, so I'm going to write on Emptiness  today, and then on Fiat Tuesday, and Advent Friday. For the most part I'm going to just share a few passages that struck me, comment briefly, and then leave the floor open for any comments on these or other passages.

This first series of quotes is very long, but I think it describes very well what we are about in this discussion.
That virginal quality which, for want of a better word, I call emptiness is the beginning of this contemplation.
It is not a formless emptiness, a void without meaning; on the contrary it has a shape, a form given to it by the purpose for which it is intended
. . . 
Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.
Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears; and these sometimes further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always a futile attempt, to forget how pointless such people's lives are.
. . .
The question most people will ask is: "Can someone whose life is cluttered up with trivial things get back to this virginal emptiness.
Of course he can; if a bird's nest has been filled with broken glass and rubbish, it can be emptied.
At the beginning it will be necessary for each individual to discard deliberately all the trifling unnecessary things in  his life, all the hard blocks and congestion; not necessarily to discard all his interests for ever, but at least once to stop still, and having prayed for courage, to visualise (sic) himself without all the extras, escapes, and interests other than Love in his life: to see ourselves as if we had just come from God's hand and had gathered nothing to ourselves yet, to discover just what shape is the virginal emptiness of our own being, and of what material we are made. 
 I think we are all pretty familiar at least in some way with practicing this emptying out process in Lent, but it's only been in the last several years that I've attempted it in Advent. It is so much harder in Advent because we are surrounded by people we love who have expectations in which we play a part. In fact, that is probably the biggest obstacle to reaching this virginal emptiness. I'm at a stage in my life where I have a fair amount of control over this, but I know that some of the people who have told me they were interested in this discussion still have young children, and that finding even a few minutes a day will be difficult, so I suggest we all pray for one another to be able find as much time as we can.

That last paragraph pretty well delineates our task. The word escape really jumps out at me. As much as I crave silence and reflection, I still paradoxically find myself turning to things: movies, the internet, etc., that keep me away from that silence. I'm intrigued by this notion of seeing myself as if I had just come from God's hand. I'm not even sure how you can do this, but I want to try to just sit with that a while.

So, any thoughts or comments?

Just a bit of housekeeping--it is possible to reply to a specific comment instead of just adding your comment to the end of the list; HOWEVER, I would advise that you do not do this. I have found that this becomes very confusing and that people miss comments because they are tucked away under the original comment. If you want to reply specifically to something, just reference it in some way--by addresses the person by name or quoting part of the original.


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Reed of God ~ Reading for Week I

As a clear and untilled space thou madest the divine ear of corn to burst forth; hail, thou living table having space for the Bread of Life; hail, perennial Fountain of living water.                                                                           The Akathist Hymn
The picture above shows the flyleaf of my copy of The Reed of God which I bought at a used book sale years ago. I like it because the previous owner's name is so biblical. Maybe his middle name is Hadadrimmon. I like that name because it's in one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament, Zechariah 12:11, "On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo." I keep meaning to look for ways to use that phrase. I don't know if you can see the address on that label at the top of the page, but if you can, don't use it. I haven't lived there in fourteen years.

So now, down to business. This week we will discuss Part One of The Reed of God (Emptiness, Fiat, Advent). I will write some kind of introduction on Sunday, and then we can discuss that section through the week. This is NOT, however, a cut and dried assignment. If that's too much for you to read in a week, don't let that deter you from joining in. Read what you can. Participate when you can. The last thing I want is for anyone to think this is overwhelming. The idea is to create a peaceful space in the havoc, not to increase the havoc. I probably won't even finish that much before I write the introduction, although I'm listening to the book on Audible while I'm working or driving, so maybe I will. You, however, don't need to read it all before Sunday, just 6 or 7 short pages a day (in my edition) beginning Sunday.

If you have looked through the book you will recognize the above quote from the flyleaf before Part I. If you are interested, you can read more about the Akathist Hymn here.

See you Sunday! I'm really looking forward to this.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dwell on These Things

Certainly, we have all seen and heard a surfeit of terrible things in the past weeks and, indeed, almost constantly for years. And the daily readings from Maccabees at Mass have been an echo of the evening news.
[From the descendants of Alexander’s officers] there sprang a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome. He became king in the year one hundred and thirty seven of the kingdom of the Greeks. 
 In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.” The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles. Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing. 
 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.                                                         I Maccabees 1
And now, as Advent rapidly approaches, everything in our environment seems to war against it. In the midst of a world which seems increasingly dangerous, we now find ourselves surrounded by the claptrap and cacophony of the secular Christmas season which seems increasingly inappropriate. Only the most determined effort will dispel our nagging fears, and ward off the pressure and distractions of the moment.

And I am determined. I've been thinking a lot about how to keep the world at bay for the next four weeks and one of the things I've hit upon is this.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.   Philippians 4:8
I am going to try everyday to look at, or listen to, or read something beautiful. I've been thinking about what every mother knows and that is that when you are expecting, nothing matters except the baby. All your plans, all your efforts, all your decisions revolve around that little life that has been entrusted to you, and one thing your want for that child is that his life will be filled with beauty. And so, as I wait for the infant Jesus to be reborn in my heart this Christmas, I am going to try to make a beautiful little place to receive Him. I plan on posting some of this on the blog, I'm not going to commit do posting everyday, but as often as I can.

Photo Credit: Nancy Derham

P. S. I'm going to take a look at Reed of God tomorrow and decide how much we should read during the first week.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Yet Will I Praise Him

From today's first reading from Macabees:
When [Eleazar] was about to die under the blows, he groaned and said: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.”
Suffering terrible pain with joy in our souls--this seems to be almost impossible. And yet, slowly, over many years, if you can learn to accept suffering as God's will for you that day, it begins to happen. It's very strange because the suffering is no less suffering, in fact it might be even harder than before, and yet, that joy begins to grown and it brings peace with it. Part of that peace, I think, is the realization that this is what you are called to do. It's not your part to fix whatever is causing the suffering, or try to manipulate people into doing something that would make your suffering stop. You just pray and offer it to God and endure--but it's a joyful endurance nonetheless.

I'm not an expert at this by any means, but I do sometimes experience it.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Reed of God ~ Advent Book Discussion

In December of 2012, the first Advent of this blog, I wrote this post about Caryll Houselander's The Reed of God. While I was not very successful in writing about it that year, I have read some part of the book every Advent since, and this year, I thought I would try something different. As you can tell from the title of the post, I hope to have a discussion of the book during Advent. I'll post something every Sunday, and we can discuss it during the week. I'll divide the book into four sections and write a post about that week's section on Sunday and we can discuss it during the week.

I know this is a bit early, but I wanted to give everyone that was interested time to get the book if they don't already have it. I'm hoping it will provide a quiet little moment of reflection in all the craziness of the month. Some of my friends in my book club have said they would be interested, so I'm hoping it will work. Any amount of participation will be fine.