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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

David Hart and Nature

On Paul's blog, they've been talking about pantheism and nature and morality and how that fits with theology. It made me think of Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart's book, The Doors of the Sea, because he writes a little about the subject. Here below are some relevant bits from his book ....

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What - to pose a question so large, indeterminate, and abstract as to border on the meaningless - is "nature" or the "natural world"? ...... as children of the modern scientific age, well indoctrinated in all its reigning metaphysical deisms, we do not really think that nature is a source of compelling moral truths .....

It is easy, and among the most spontaneous movements of the soul, to revere the God glimpsed in the iridescence of flowered meadows, the emerald light of the deep forest, the soft, immaculate blue of distant mountains, the shining volubility of the sunlit sea, the pale, cold glitter of the stars. This is a perfectly wise and even holy impulse.

But at the same time, all the splendid loveliness of the natural world is everywhere attended - and, indeed, preserved - by death. All life feeds on life, each creature must yield its place in time to another, and at the heart of nature is a perpetual struggle to survive and increase at the expense of other beings .....

So, then, what sort of God should a purely "natural" theology invite us to see? ..... To put the matter starkly, nature is a cycle of sacrifice, and religion has often been no more than an attempt to reconcile us to this reality ..... And this sacrificial sense of reality leads quite reasonably, even when religious thought achieves prodigies of metaphysical sophistication, to an image of God as sacrifice, as life and death at once, peace and violence, the creative source and consuming end of all things .....

The Christian vision of God and the world, however, and of how God is reflected within his creation, is of a different order. For, while the Christian is enjoined to see the the glory of God in all that is, it is not a glory conformed to the dimensions or logic of "nature" as we understand it; in fact, it renders the very category of "nature" mysterious, alters it, elevates it - judges and redeems it .....

The Christian eyes see (or should see) a deeper truth in the world than mere "nature" ..... the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply "nature" but "creation", an endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death: it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days .....

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

St. Isaac Jogues & The Sparrow



Today is the Memorial of St. Isaac Jogues and as I read about him, I remembered (at least I think so) that I'd heard the The North American Martyrs were a reference for the science fiction novel The Sparrow.

Here's a little about Isaac Jogues from Wikipedia ....

Saint Isaac Jogues (January 10, 1607 – October 18, 1646) was a Jesuit missionary who traveled and worked among the Native Americans in North America ..... Born in Orléans, France, Jogues entered the Society of Jesus in 1624. In 1642, he was sent to New France as a missionary to the Huron and Algonquin allies of the French. While on his way by canoe to the country of the Hurons, Jogues was captured by a war party of Mohawk Iroquois, in the company of Guillaume Couture, René Goupil, and several Huron Christians. Taken back to the Mohawk village, they were tortured in various gruesome ways, Jogues himself having several of his fingers bitten or burned off. Jogues survived this torment and went on to live as a slave among the Mohawks for some time, even attempting to teach his captors the rudiments of Christianity. He was finally able to escape thanks to the pity of some Dutch merchants who smuggled him back to Manhattan. From there, he managed to sail back to France, where he was greeted with surprise and joy. As a "living martyr," Jogues was given a special permission by Pope Urban VIII to say the Holy Mass with his mutilated hands, as the Eucharist could not be touched with any fingers but the thumb and forefinger ....

He went back to Mohawk country and sadly was eventually killed there. In the science fiction novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, another Jesuit sets off as a missionary, this time to an alien planet, and though things seem to go well at first, his fellows are killed and his hands mutilated by those he came seeking. Here's a little from a a review by Richard Gray....

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Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit Priest, is a master linguist who has been ordered by his superiors from place to place, learning languages and helping the poor and unfortunate for the glory of God. When he is allowed to return to his home town in Arecibo Puerto Rico he befriends a Anne Rice, a physician; her engineer husband, George; a young astronomer, Jimmy Quinn; and a former child prostitute turned computer expert, Sofia Mendez. On August 3rd, 2019 a radio transmission is picked up at Arecibo Puerto Rico from intelligent life on another planet. Jimmy Quinn is the first to hear it, and, against protocol, Jimmy's closets friends, including Sandoz, are next.

From the instant Sandoz hears the people of Rakhat singing from 4 light-years away he is convinced in the need to meet them for the glory of his God. He and his Jesuit order stop at nothing to put together the first mission to the planet and the crew includes himself, three other Jesuits, and his skilled friends from Arecibo.

Despite initial success, the mission goes horribly wrong. When a government led mission arrive several years later they find Sandoz with brutally mangled hands, living as a prostitute, and standing over the body of an alien child he had just murdered. Sandoz returns to earth, disgraced, and it is up to his Jesuit superiors to try and find out what happened.

The book is written from the point of view of two different time periods, alternating from chapter to chapter. One follows Sandoz as a broken man being questioned about the mission, and the other shows how the mission unfolded and what really happened. This approach to telling the story works perfectly for the plot and everything from chapter to chapter is masterfully paced.

The reader is immediately hooked by the question of what made Sandoz go from a devoted priest that believes his God is lovingly guiding his life to a man who is physically broken and has come to hate God. As the details of the mission are revealed the answer to that question may shock the reader ......

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Both the novel and the life of the saint make me wonder about missionary work .... in a way it's a gift, both because it's perceived by the giver as good and because the one to whom it's given didn't ask for it ..... but I have mixed feelings about its merits.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

St. Margaret Mary and the X-Files

Today is the feast of St. Margaret Mary. I posted this about a year and a half ago, but I like it, so am re-posting it today ....

Sometimes it seems like everything I know, I learned from the X-Files :-) ... for instance, the identity of St. Margaret Mary. Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque (1647-1690) was a French Catholic nun, who entered the Visitation Convent at Paray-le-Monial at the age of twenty-four. She was a mystic, practiced a number of mortifications, and had many visions, the most well known being that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In this vision, Jesus showed her his heart, burning with divine love, and told her to establish a feast in honor of his Sacred Heart. One of the first to believe in and support Margaret Mary's vision of the Sacred Heart was a young Jesuit, her spiritual director, St. Claude de la Colombière SJ. and it was the Jesuit Order that later helped establish the devotion of the Sacred Heart.

Here below is an excerpt from that episode of The X-Files, and the painting that inspired it ....


- My Divine Heart

Milagro episode - Inside the X-Files ....

PHILLIP PADGETT (to Agent Scully) : I often come here to look at this painting. It's called "My Divine Heart" after the miracle of Saint Margaret Mary. Do you know the story... The revelation of the Sacred Heart? Christ came to Margaret Mary his heart so inflamed with love that it was no longer able to contain its burning flames of charity. Margaret Mary... so filled with divine love herself, asked the Lord to take her heart... and so he did placing it alongside his until it burned with the flames of his passion. Then he restored it to Margaret Mary sealing her wound with the touch of his blessed hand.


And here is a prayer by Claude de la Colombière SJ., adapted by John Veltri SJ ...

Act Of Hope And Confidence In God

My God, I believe most firmly
that you watch over all who hope in you,
and that we can want for nothing
when we rely upon you in all things.
Therefore I am resolved for the future ... to cast all my cares upon you
People may deprive me of possessions and status.
Sickness may take my strength from me. I may even jeopardize our
relationship by sin; but my trust shall never leave me.
I will preserve it to the last moment of my life,
and the powers of hell shall seek in vain to grab it from me.
Let others seek happiness in their wealth and in their talents.
Let them trust in the purity of their lives,
in the number of their activities, in the intensity of their prayer;
as for me, my confidence in you fills me with hope.
You are my divine protector. In you alone do I hope.
I am assured, therefore, of my eternal happiness,
for I firmly hope in it and all my hope is in you.
"In you, O Loving God, have I hoped: let me never be confounded."
I know too well that I am weak and changeable.
I know the power of temptation against the strongest virtue.
I have seen stars fall and foundations of my world crack.
These things do not alarm me.
While I hope in you, I am sheltered from all misfortune,
and I am sure that my trust shall endure,
for I rely upon you to sustain this unfailing hope.
Finally, I know that my confidence cannot exceed your generosity,
and that I shall never receive less than I have hoped for from you.
Therefore I hope that you will sustain me against the ways
in which I deceive myself.
I hope that you will protect me against the deceitful attacks
of the evil one. I hope you will cause my weakness
to triumph over every hostile force.
I hope that you will never cease to love me
and that I shall love you unceasingly.
"In you, O God, I have hoped, let me never be confounded."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Relics of El Salvador Martyrs

I saw an interesting news story yesterday about Stonyhurst curator Jan Graffius going to El Salvador to give advice on the care of the relics of the murdered Fr. Rutilio Grande SJ, Oscar Romero, the six Jesuits of the University of Central America (UCA) - Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado Lopez - and of their housekeeper Elba Ramos, and her daughter, Celia Marisela Ramos. It touched me, so I thought I'd post the whole story from the Independent Catholic News here ....

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Stonyhurst curator visits San Salvador to help conserve Romero relics

Stonyhurst curator Jan Graffius has visited San Salvador to begin the delicate task of examining the vestments worn by 20th century martyr Monseñor Oscar Romero when he was assassinated as he celebrated Mass on 24 March 1980.

She was there at the invitation of the Carmelite sisters who run the Hospital of the Divine Providence, where Archbishop Romero lived and where he was murdered, and of the eminent theologian, Fr Jon Sobrino SJ who runs the Romero Pastoral Centre at the University of Central America.

Her purpose in going to San Salvador was to advise on the conservation and display of the relics and personal possessions of Monseñor Romero and of the six Jesuit theologians of the University of Central America (UCA) who were murdered by the Salvadoran Army in 1989.

Jan, who looks after the many Catholic relics and important artefacts at Stonyhurst College, is an expert on the care of sacred objects. The College collection contains many rare and ancient vestments.

The trip had been arranged through Julian Filochowski, for many years Director of CAFOD who has worked with the Jesuits and Monseñor Romero since the late 1970s to promote the cause of peace and justice in a country which was torn apart by war and repression for many years

Although there is now peace, it is still a divided and poverty stricken country and, today, the death rate in San Salvador is greater than during the war as a result of gangs and the ever present scourge of drugs.

Jan explained: "Thousands of teenagers are left to care for elderly grandparents and younger siblings as their parents have gone to the USA in an attempt to earn some money to support the family, thus effectively preventing a generation of young people from studying in the hope of improving their situation.

"Despite this, I was welcomed wherever I went with great courtesy and generous hospitality, both on my own account as a visitor, but more so as I was there because of Monseñor Romero, who is revered and deeply loved by the poor of the country.

"I spent many hours working in the three small rooms at the Cancer Hospital of the Carmelite Sisters where Archbishop Romero lived in great simplicity. Close by is the chapel where he was murdered on March 24th 1980. I was privileged to be able to hear Mass there where pilgrims come daily to pray at the altar where Romero was shot while he celebrated Mass.

"His rooms contain many personal possessions, such as clothing, books, official and unofficial papers, photographs and most importantly, the vestments and clothes he was wearing when he was shot. These hang separately from the other possessions and are in need of proper supports to help preserve the thin cotton fabric which is soaked in dried blood.

"Handling and examining these vestments was an emotional experience and a great responsibility. I made condition reports and took photographs of everything, monitored the light levels, UV radiation, humidity and temperature within the rooms and over the next few weeks will draw up a report for the sisters outlining recommendations for improvement in the display and care for these important relics.

"If, as is expected, Monseñor Romero is beatified in the near future, the hospital will become an even more important centre of pilgrimage than it is at present. The sisters have kindly invited me to return early next year to make the necessary changes to the displays."

Jan's second project was at the Romero Pastoral Centre at the UCA. Here Fr Sobrino has put together a large display in the Sala de los Martires of personal items belonging to Monseñor Romero, to Fr Rutilio Grande, the first Jesuit to be murdered in El Salvador, and a large and harrowing collection of clothing worn by the six Jesuits and a mother and daughter dragged from their beds by the Army death squads in November 1989 and murdered.

Jan added: "The Jesuits have also collected many pieces of evidence from other murders and massacres in El Salvador, many of which were officially denied at the time, to provide a witness to the repression and to ensure that those who died are not forgotten. It was impossible, for instance, not to be moved at the sight of the white shoes worn by 15 year old Celina, when she was shot, along with her mother, the Jesuits' cook, in 1989.

"Yet, it was not a depressing experience - there are many visitors to the Sala from all over the world, who are shown round by UCA students, keen that future generations should know what happened in El Salvador and especially keen that visitors should know that the Church and the Society of Jesus were almost lone voices crying for justice and peace in very dark times.

"The story, essentially, is one of struggle, hope and sacrifice, and the longed for peace was finally attained in El Salvador largely as a result of the orld wide outrage at the murders of the Jesuits and the two women.

"I left with strong feelings of regret and keenly anticipate my return visit. El Salvador may not be the most comfortable of places for those of us used to security and plenty, but the people are kind, passionate and generous, and went out of their way to welcome a slightly culture shocked non Spanish speaking westerner. I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world, and remain deeply grateful to those who supported the project and wish it well.

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You can read more about the El Salvador martyrs at this Creighton University page.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Discerning the spirits on YouTube

One of the most important things that can be learned from a retreat like the one given online by Creighton University, based on Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, is the discernment of spirits. I'm not the best person to try to explain discernment and why it is so important, but I'll give the basics a try ...

Ignatius thought that our thoughts and feelings are either self-generated or come from without us, those from without being influenced by the good or the bad spirit. That sounds spooky :-) and I'm not sure what most modern Jesuits would say about those influences - whether they are metaphorical or actual spirits - but the result is perhaps the same ... they draw us either toward or away from God. Since, as I mentioned in my post on retreat week 4, Ignatius thought that we are created to be drawn toward God, doing things that bring us in God's direction feel good (consolation) and doing what turns us away from God feels bad (desolation). Given this, discerning the spirits, figuring out if what you are doing is influenced by the good or bad spirit, allows you to make spiritually informed decisions and choices.

It's more complex than this, of course, and I don't understand it well myself, but hopefully you sort of get the idea. I happened upon a YouTube on the discernment of spirits that has a number of different people saying a few words on the subject .... it barely scratches the surface, but .......




Saturday, October 13, 2007

I haven't yet given up hope ...



Saw this story tonight - Award heats up Gore-for-president buzz ...

The movement to draft Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination went into overdrive Friday, with the news that he was co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

"This award will only add to the tremendous tidal wave of support for Al Gore," declared the website draftgore.com, an Internet-based collection of Democrats who are trying to persuade the former vice-president to enter the race for the party's presidential nomination. "He has no choice but to take the one step left to have the greatest impact in changing policy on global warming — run for President."


The story goes on, though, to predict that Gore will not choose to run for president .... I hope they're wrong.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jim Keenan SJ & Elaine Scarry

I came across an article in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine today by Professor of Moral Theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, James F. Keenan SJ - Suffering and the Christian Tradition.

I was interested partly because I've been thinking about suffering and theodicy. The first part of the article, A Christian Stance toward Suffering, mentioned works by Edward Schillebeeckx and Dr. Mary Catherine Hilkert. The second part, Listening and the Voice of the One who Suffers, mentioned the work of M. Shawn Copeland, and I was especially interested when it touched on the subject of torture and a book by Elaine Scarry (I've posted a little about Scarry before).

That subject has been in the news a lot lately, and just reading the word "torture" starts my heart thudding with something between disgust and fear. I also hate how the current administration has made torture a US staple ....

IN HALF a century of reporting around the world, I have found that there was usually a feeling that the United States stood for standards of liberty, human rights, and the dignity of mankind. The Bush administration has taken us off that gold standard and drained away much of that reservoir of respect. The horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have eaten away at America's credibility and moral standing, dismaying our friends and empowering our enemies.

Washington shuddered last week when The New York Times revealed that the Justice Department, under the direction of Alberto Gonzales, had undermined the will of Congress, the Supreme Court, as well as hard-won national and international standards with secret legal opinions supporting torture. "Shocking" was the word Republican Senator Arlen Specter used, and well he should.

Men and women of good will may differ on how much power the executive branch should have, and how much of our privacy and civil liberties need to be curtailed in an age of terrorism. As the former deputy attorney general, James Comey, who tried to stem the tide of the administration's malfeasance, said: there are "agonizing collisions" between the law and the desire to protect Americans. But no good will can be ascribed to those who secretly sought to undermine the republic by their underhanded advocacy of torture .....
- H.D.S. Greenway, October 9, 2007, The Boston Globe

But back to the article by James F. Keenan SJ .... here below is the part that mentions Scarry and torture and suffering ....

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[...] the act of listening encourages the sufferer to speak. Encouraging the sufferer to speak is a very biblical stance. In a rather brilliant article, J. David Pleins addresses the issue of the "Divine Silence" in Job. Pleins argues that unlike those so-called friends of Job who are horrified by how Job declares his innocence and who try to silence him, God allows Job to speak. Not God's absence but "God's silence dominates the discussions of Job with his friends." And God's silence is there to let Job speak so that God can listen .....

Allowing the sufferer to give voice to their suffering is a key response to suffering ..... in suffering, we face the loss of our own personal universe. In order to claim some hold on that universe, the suffering need to articulate the fears, hopes and concerns that they have.

Nowhere has the relationship between the voice and suffering been better captured than in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, where Elaine Scarry examines torture. She cogently argues that torturers derive their power from the voices of the tortured. She explains that the object of torture is not to exact a confession nor to learn information, but rather to force the tortured person to accuse her very self; the tortured voice betrays the body when, so broken with pain, the body is unable to keep the voice from submitting to the fictive power of the torturer. The aim of torture, then, is dualism: to tear the voice from its body: "The goal of the torturer is to make the one, the body, emphatically and crushingly present by destroying it, and to make the other, the voice, absent by destroying it." The tortured body is left voiceless, once it acknowledges the torturer's power. Separating the voice from the body is the object of those who deliberately cause suffering. That is, those who want to make another suffer recognize that the unitive element for a person of purpose is the voice. They torture to the point that their victim's voice becomes the accuser.

Scarry notes that the tortured person's most difficult wound to heal is the voice. For this reason, Amnesty International assists the tortured, unable out of shame to tell their narratives, to read and understand their records so that they may articulate one day the truth of the atrocities. Scarry's work convincingly demonstrates the centrality of the human voice in attaining healing integration. Likewise, together with the other writers she highlights that silencing and other forms of exclusion are physically and personally destructive acts.

The call for the respondent to listen to one who is suffering is not necessarily an easy one ...... we might need to recognize that the voice of the suffer might not express what we want to hear .... But inevitably by trying to voice their own concerns, they invite us into the task of seeing the threat to their universe.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Vatican secret archives on the Knights Templar

I saw an interesting news bite today about the Vatican and the Knights Templar .

Vatican Secret Archives to unveil rare book on Knights Templar ........

On October 25 in the Vatican's Old Synod Hall, the presentation will take place of the "Processus contra Templarios," a book published by the Vatican Secret Archives on the subject of the Knights Templar, the medieval military-religious order founded in Jerusalem in 1118 and suppressed by Pope Clement V (1305-1314).

According to a communique made public yesterday afternoon, the new volume is "a previously unpublished and exclusive edition of the complete acts of the original hearing against the Knights Templar." The book, unique of its kind, will have a print run "rigorously limited to 799 copies" and contains the "faithful reproduction of the original parchments conserved in the Vatican Secret Archives." .......



- Templars being burned at the stake ... Illustration, anonyme Chronik, "Von der Schöpfung der Welt bis 1384"

I've been a fan of the Templars since college, when I read Ivanhoe, and also two novels by Graham Shelby - The Knights of Dark Renown (1969), set in the Kingdom of Jerusalem during the reigns of Baldwin IV, Baldwin V and Queen Sibylla, and The Kings of Vain Intent (1970), sequel to the above, dealing with the Third Crusade. But sadly, many people, if they think of the Templars at all, only connect them with weird legends or Masonic conspiracy theories like those in The Da Vinci Code or Foucault's Pendulum .... even films like Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven give a somewhat inaccurate account of the Order. The actual history of the Templars is interesting enough without embellishment, so here below is just the basic introduction from Wikipedia's page on them ....

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Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Latin: Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici), popularly known as the Knights Templar .... were among the most famous of the Christian military orders. The organization existed for approximately two centuries in the Middle Ages. It was created in the aftermath of the First Crusade of 1096, to ensure the safety of the large numbers of European pilgrims who flowed toward Jerusalem after its conquest.

Officially endorsed by the Church in 1129, the Order became a favored charity across Europe. It grew rapidly in membership and power. Templar knights, easily recognizable in their white mantle with a distinct red cross, made some of the best equipped, trained, and disciplined fighting units of the Crusades. Non-warrior members of the Order managed a large economic infrastructure throughout Christendom, innovating many financial techniques that were an early form of banking, and building numerous fortifications across Europe and the Holy Land.

The Templars' success was tied closely to the success of the Crusades. When the Holy Land was lost and the Templars suffered crushing defeats, support for the Order's existence faded. Rumors about the Templars' secret initiation ceremony created mistrust, and King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Order, began pressuring Pope Clement V to take action. On Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip had many of the Order's members, including the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, arrested, tortured into "confessions", and burned at the stake. In 1312, Pope Clement, under continuing pressure from King Philip, forcibly disbanded the entire Order. The sudden disappearance of a major part of the European infrastructure gave rise to speculation and legends, which have kept the name "Templar" alive in modern fiction.

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- Effigies of Templar Knights in Temple Church, London, once the Templars' headquarters in England.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Francis



The Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi is coming up on Thursday, but I couldn't wait to post something about him. Maybe I'm feeling sort of guilty .... before I ever became a Catholic, I admired St. Francis because of his way with animals and nature. When my RCIA class had to choose a saintly mascot, I even voted for him. But later I became disillusioned after reading about a severed pig's foot, and it wasn't until recently that I decided I'd misjudged him (I know, I know - Crystal, zooming to hell in a handbasket :-) So here's his The Canticle of All Creatures and a few pictures from the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon ...



Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord,
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.



Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon
for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace,
By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.




Monday, October 01, 2007

Richard Dawkins & Rowan Williams throw down

A couple of days ago it was the feast of the Archangels, the messengers, and today I saw some news stories that were about getting messages across ...

There was a story in The Guardian about Richard Dawkins on a speaking tour of US universities - Atheists arise: Dawkins spreads the A-word among America's unbelievers - which says in part ...

Britain's leading atheist is spearheading a campaign in America to challenge the dominance of religion in every day life and in politics, insisting that the millions of US godless deserve to be heard too ..... Religion is palpable in US schools, places of work and public institutions. God is invoked by soldiers and politicians in a way that would seem inappropriate in Britain. George Bush used God as one of the reasons for invading Iraq. In Congress, where godlessness can equate with being unelectable, only one representative, Pete Stark, is prepared to admit to being a non-believer. According to a study published last year by the University of Minnesota, Americans distrust atheists more than any other minority group, including homosexuals, recent immigrants or Muslims ....

I noticed Dawkins has a debate set for October 3 at The Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham, Alabama, with Dr. John Lennox, Reader in Mathematics and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, Green College, University of Oxford ... the topic - the existence of God. You can read more about it here.

As it turns out, Dawkins is not alone in giving lectures .... another story I saw was about Rowan Williams, who will be returning to Swansea, Wales, where he will give a public lecture at the university there on October 13, titled "How To Misunderstand Religion" .... the lecture will coincidentally address the religious arguments against popular scientific beliefs such as those promoted by Dawkins ..... Williams to challenge Richard Dawkins’ ‘God Delusion’.

I can't help wondering if these talks/debates do any good - is each side only preaching to its own choir and the message lost on everyone else? The third news story I saw today was also about messengers and messages ......

San Francisco's Grace Cathedral welcomes Presiding Bishop

Divine messengers "act to drive out fear," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her homily marking the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels observed September 30 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. "That may be the best test of the messenger's source," she added. "When the message is about fear or hate, we can be sure that it comes from an unholy messenger" ....

You can read her full sermon here.