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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Kevin Hart / The Kingdom of God

I've been thinking lately about the kingdom of God, and I have a lot of questions ... is it something that takes place after we die, the afterlife... is it happening right now, in us and around us, a state of mind ... is it the second coming, to be lived out here on earth after judgement day?

I looked around ... the basics can be found at both Wikipedia and The Catholic Encyclopedia. Here's a little of what Wikipedia had, including the differing impressions of two Jesuits, one of whom is William A. Barry SJ :-) ...

In the synoptic Gospels (which were written in Greek), Mark and Luke use the Greek term 'basileia tou theou', commonly translated in English as "Kingdom of God," while Matthew prefers the Greek term 'basileia tōn ouranōn' which has been translated as "Kingdom of Heaven." .... In Matthew, "heaven" stands for "God." The word “kingdom” is a translation of the Greek word “basileia” which in turn is a translation of the words "malkuth" (Hebrew) and "malkutha" (Aramaic). These words do not define kingdom by territory but by dominion. Jesus said of the Kingdom of God that one cannot say, “Look here it is!” or “There it is!” Luke 17:21. According to C.H. Dodd, the common translation of “malkuth” with “basileia” in Greek and hence “kingdom” in English is therefore problematic; a translation with “kingship,” "kingly rule," “reign” or “sovereignty” should be preferred ....

According to Fr. William Barry, S.J., we can understand the Kingdom of God as God's intention for the universe. God has revealed that His intention for our world is that all humans live as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters of God (Is 2:2-5, Is 11:6-9, Is 40:4-5, Eph 1:3, 9-10). Our thoughts and actions can either be in tune with God's intention or not. Only by being in tune with God's intention will we ever know true fulfillment or happiness in this life. Prayer, discernment and knowledge of God's revealed Word are needed to discover how one can be in tune with God's intention.

According to Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., the Kingdom of God primarily refers to the era when Christ comes again to bring the final establishment of God’s rule over all creation, which will include a final judgment where the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished. The concept of the Kingdom of God offers the goal for Christian life: those who follow the example and teachings of Jesus will be vindicated when the Kingdom of God comes and will reign with Christ forever ....

And I found a really interesting article - The Experience of God - The Experience of the Kingdom of God, by Kevin Hart, poet and professor of philosophy and lietature at Notre Dame. I'm not sure I understood it well - I'm still full of questions.

Here's a poem by Hart that seems at least partly in the ball park, subject-wise...

The Last Day

When the last day comes
A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
And see the hard furrows of earth
Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
Run back into his spine.

It will be morning
For the first time, and the long night
Will be seen for what it is,
A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
On the last day

Our stories will be rewritten
Each from the end,
And each will hear the fields and rivers clap
And under the trees

Old bones
Will cover themselves with flesh;
Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
From wounds already healed,
Women will clasp their sons as men

And men will look
Into their palms and find them empty;
There will be time
For us to say the right things at last,
To look into our enemy’s face

And see ourselves,
Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
The mirrors return our faces,
And everything is stripped from us,
Even our names.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Vatican and Saddam

I saw a story in the Google news today ... FACTBOX-How will Saddam Hussein be hanged?.

And also saw this story ... Top Vatican official condemns Saddam's death penalty

I don't get the chance to say this very often, so .... I agree with the Vatican.

And I agree with Michele Simone SJ, who is quoted in this news story - ‘Eye for an eye’ in Saddam death penalty wrong, Vatican official says ....

Jesuit Father Michele Simone, assistant director of La Civilta Cattolica, a Vatican-reviewed magazine, told Vatican Radio the sentence "certainly would not resolve the situation in Iraq." ... "In a situation like that of Iraq, where hundreds are, in fact, condemned to death each day" by the ongoing violence, "adding one more does not help anything," he said.

Father Simone said if Saddam had not been condemned to death, most Iraqis probably would have questioned the integrity of the trial "because death has become the order of the day. But to save a life – which does not mean accepting what Saddam Hussein did -- is always positive."

The Jesuit said the Iraqi government must find a political solution to promote and protect the lives of all its citizens and the value of human life in general.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sumer Is Icumen In

The movie I sent for a while ago finally came ... The Wicker Man, starring Nick Cage. I'm sad to say it was disappointing as a movie (a matiarchal society gone bad, and the main character meeting a grisly death), though kind of interesting, given my recent posts on sacrifice, scapegoating, and atonement. And while reading up on it, I found ...

The movie was a remake of a 1973 British film of the same name, starring Edward Woodward, of the great Australian movie Breaker Morant, and Christopher Lee (the wizard Saruman in LOTR).

This version, which won the 1978 Saturn Award for Best Horror Film, had a somewhat different plot, though once again the main character ends up extra crispy. Here's what Wikipedia says ...

Sergeant Neil Howie (Woodward), of the fictitious West Highlands Constabulary, is sent an anonymous letter recommending that he investigate the disappearance of a young girl, Rowan Morrison, on the remote Hebridean island of Summerisle. He flies out to the island and during his investigations discovers that the entire population follows a neo-pagan cult under the island's owner Lord Summerisle (Lee), believing in re-incarnation, worshipping the sun and engaging in fertility rituals and sexual magic in order to appease immanent natural forces.

Howie, an extremely devout and conservative Christian, is increasingly shocked by the islanders' behaviour; yet, he is attracted and repelled by the alluring and sexual Willow (Britt Ekland), the landlord's daughter. He receives no assistance in his search from the islanders, who initially deny Morrison exists and then say that she recently died. Howie persists and uncovers evidence suggesting the girl was a victim, or perhaps is soon to be a victim, of human sacrifice. Delving deeper into the island's culture, he disguises himself as Punch, a principal character of the May Day festival, to uncover the details of the ceremony. The islanders are not fooled and at the end of the festival it is revealed that the girl is alive and unhurt; the letter was part of a ploy to bring Howie to the island for him to be the sacrifice, which they believe will restore the fertility of their orchards ...

But more interesting than the storyline, is the inclusion in the movie of a song at the end ... Sumer Is Icumen In. Here's more from Wikipedia on it ...

Sumer Is Icumen In is a traditional English round, and possibly the oldest such example of counterpoint in existence. The title might be translated as "Spring Has Come In", "Summer has arrived", or even "Warm weather has arrived", since the word in Middle English extends over a longer period than the modern one. It is sometimes known as the Reading rota because the manuscript comes from Reading Abbey though it may not have been written there. It is the oldest piece of six-part polyphonic music (Albright, 1994). Its composer is anonymous, possibly W. de Wycombe, and it is estimated to date from around 1260. The manuscript is now at the British Library. ...

Here below are the lyrics, the secualr Middle English version, and the sacred Latin version, with translations (Wikipedia) ...

English lyrics (secular)

The better-known lyrics for this piece are in Middle English, and comprise a song of spring (reverdie):

Svmer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calue cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu, cuccu;
Ne swik þu nauer nu.


Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu!

Modern English translation

Spring has come in (or Summer has arrived),
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
Seeds grow and meadows bloom
And the forest springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!

The ewe bleats after the lamb,
The cow lows after the calf.
The bullock jumps, the billy-goat farts,
Merrily sing, Cuckoo!

Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Nor cease you ever now,
Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

Latin lyrics (sacred)

This work is also one of the earliest examples of music with both religious and secular lyrics, though the secular ones are perhaps better known. It is not clear which came first, but the religious lyrics, in Latin, are a reflection on the sacrifice of the Crucifixion.

Perspice Christicola†
que dignacio
Celicus agricola
pro uitis vicio
non parcens exposuit mortis exicio
Qui captiuos semiuiuos a supplicio
Vite donat et secum coronat
in celi solio

†written "χρ̅icola" in the manuscript

English translation

Observe, Christian, such honour!
The heavenly farmer,
due to a defect in the vine,
not sparing the Son,
exposed him to the destruction of death.
To the captives half-dead from torment,
He gives them life and crowns them with himself
on the throne of heaven.


Next week I must rent something less heavy ... maybe Galaxy Quest :-)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Beloved Disciple

- John at the Last Supper (Crespi)

Today is the Feast of John the Apostle and Evangelist ...

John the Apostle (יוחנן "The LORD is merciful", Standard Hebrew Yoḥanan, Tiberian Hebrew Yôḥānān, Greek Ευαγγελιστής Ιωάννης), was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus. Christian tradition proclaims he is the same person who wrote:
* the Gospel of John and first epistle of John (the author of these is also referred to as John the Evangelist, John the Theologian or John the Divine)
* the second and third Epistle of John (the author of these is sometimes distinguished under the name of John the Presbyter).
* the Book of Revelation (the author is sometimes referred to as John of Patmos or John the Revelator' ....

- Wikipedia

One of the interesting things about John's gospel is that the author doesn't refer to himself by name, but only as the "other disciple" or more famously, "the disciple Jesus loved". Some scholars think the beloved disciple might have instead been Mary Magdalene, and others, like Ben Witherington, think Lazarus was the disciple Jesus loved (What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History--Why We Can Trust the Bible). I'm sticking with John, though ... here below is a short article on the subject of the beloved disciple that emphasizes the importance of translation ...


The Disciple Whom Jesus Kept on Loving?
- edited by Dr. David Alan Black

It is only the apostle John who calls himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20). Actually, John uses a tense that emphasizes a process— something like "the disciple whom Jesus kept on loving." The implication is almost, "he kept on loving me despite myself."

And little wonder.

Do not think of John as some kind of soft, sentimental, wishy-washy weakling. He was a "son of thunder" (Hebrew for a person with a boisterous personality). He wanted to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. He sought the place of prominence at the right (or, if need be, at the left) hand of Jesus in the kingdom.

John the weakling? Hardly.

And now, writing many years later at the end of his long life (John outlived all the other apostles), he has one chance to describe himself to his audience. He could have done this in several different ways, each with its own emphasis. I might introduce myself, depending on the occasion, as Becky’s husband, Nathan’s dad, a surfer from Hawaii, a Greek teacher, a Baptist preacher, and so forth.

And John? Did he write "apostle of Jesus Christ," or "first bishop of the church at Ephesus," or "author of the Book of Revelation"? He could have, but he wrote none of these. Thinking back to his impetuous relationship with the Lord, to his unworthiness even to be called a follower of Christ, he simply wrote, "the disciple whom Jesus kept on loving."

The description implies, not arrogance (as if he meant "the disciple whom Jesus loved more than the others"), but a profound sense of divine grace.

Is that not your identity and mine—we who know the Lord Jesus as our Savior and Lord and who also know our own weaknesses and shortcomings? We are but disciples whom Jesus keeps on loving, and loving, and loving.

Loved with everlasting love,
Led by grace that love to know,
Spirit, breathing from above,
Thou hast taught me it is so!

O this full and perfect peace!
O this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease,
I am his and he is mine.

G. W. Robinson (1838-77)


Check out The Johannine Literature Web / Felix Just SJ

Here's a great page of St. John in Art

- John at the crucifixion (Bronzino)

Spluttering up the beach to Nineveh . . .

The writing of Fr. James Alison speaks to me in many ways. Spluttering up the beach to Nineveh . . ., from which I'm quoting below, is no exception - it contains a long excerpt from Fr. Alison's book, Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay, and uses the example of Jonah to explore a spiritual rebirth. It's long, so I've only used a small part of it below (best read the whole thing). This part I've posted is about the Creation story of Adam and Eve ... it caught my attention because I had been discussing it, and its impact on the idea of "right" relationships, on another blog some time ago ...


... the doctrine of Creation. You all know what I'm talking about: creation has been presented as part of a moral story which goes something like this: God created everything good, and in particular God created male and female as complementary to each other. Original sin happened, so the order of creation, with its natural laws of flourishing as we grow towards the Creator, has been severely corrupted. Luckily, Jesus was sent along, and by paying the infinite price of agreeing to die so as to cancel out the infinite debt which humanity had amassed against God by perverting his creation, he saved us. This means that our lives now consist in being empowered to recover and live out the original order of creation, a task which is arduous but possible. Since in the original order of creation, male and female were made complementary to each other and told to multiply, it is manifest that any other form of coupling is intrinsically disordered and must of its nature be a partaker of the order of original sin, not of the order of renewed creation. Therefore, while many of us may be weak as regards avoiding particular incidents of inappropriate coupling, these can be forgiven so long as they are not justified. However, any attempt to justify any other form of coupling must be resisted as a serious offense against the objective truth of the order of Creation, and ultimately one which could exclude us from heaven ....

However many caveats are put into it concerning the distinction between acts and orientation, this package grinds down on us and says: "as you are, you are not really part of creation. While it is true that for heterosexual people their longings, desirings, seekings after flourishing and sense of what is natural really do correspond to the order of creation, however much they may need pruning and refining on their path of salvation, this is not true for you. Your longings, desirings, seekings after flourishing and sense of what is natural, however they be pruned and refined through experiences of partnership and love, have absolutely no relationship with creation. There is no analogy between them and creation. For you creation is a word whose meaning you simply cannot and do not know from experience, since everything most heartfelt that you take to be natural is intrinsically disordered, and it is only by a complete rejection of your very hearts that you may come to know something of what is meant by creation. Until such a time as this happens, limp along, holding fast with your minds to the objective truth about a creation which can have no subjective resonance for you, and when you are dead, you will enter into the Creator's glory."

I suspect that all of us have, to some extent or other, allowed this package to bear down on us, have interiorized it, and have allowed it to chew deep down into our souls. It is part of the theological double-bind: love but do not love; be, but do not be, which I mentioned earlier. This is a profoundly destabilizing force, since over time it means that our lives are not real lives, our loves are not real loves, our attempts to build stable and ordered relationships have no real worth, our minds and hearts can only produce sick fruit, not worth listening to or countenancing, let alone receiving or blessing. We are not children in a garden, we are living blasphemies, and since with every footfall we tread illicitly on a sacred lawn, it would be better not to tread at all, let alone walk confidently and make something of our stay. Many of us experience this as having killed us.

But here's the part which interests me: those who are killed are free from their killer, and can stand back and wonder what it was all about, not with a view to pointing out what was wrong with the story, but with a view to rescuing and revivifying what is right. Let me say this more strongly: where we have found ourselves killed by forces which include a blasphemous and sacrificial understanding of creation, as we come to find ourselves held by God in a being which is immune from death, so we are in a quite extraordinary position to begin to provide something new to offer Nineveh, its people and its cattle: an emerging understanding of creation that is tied in with the sense of an utterly gratuitous being held in being over against nothing at all. For this understanding, the particularly privileged starting point is that of those whom the apparent order of creation has reduced to nothing at all. I think St Paul was onto this when he told the Corinthian community:

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor 1:26-29)

We are in fact set free to begin to reimagine creation starting from our position as ones who, though a thing that is not, have found ourselves held in being by a force of invincible gratuity depending on nothing at all, part of no argument, simply giving life out of nothing. And this, let it be clear, is not only a permission to jump up and play, but is also an invitation to rescue a part of the Good News that has fallen prisoner to Babylon.

There are few more important dimensions of the Good News than the access which it gives us to our Creator as our Father, and to the sense of creation as of a given and undeserved participation in an extraordinary and constructive adventure out of nothing, the shape and fulfilment of which becoming and flourishing is as yet very difficult to sense, the rules and natural laws of which are discovered by its participants as they develop. And, wonder of wonders, we who were treated as "not-part-of His creation" are beginning to discover ourselves as "delighted-in co-workers in My creation" (cf., Is 62:3-5) ....


Read more of Fr. Alison's writing at James Alison - Theology

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Poorest Deserve the Best

I read the Chistmas sermon given by Rowan Williams today, which was posted at his webiste, and I thought it moving. I've copied and pasted it below ...


25th December 2006

Sermon for Christmas Day

Canterbury Cathedral

Three days ago in Bethlehem, I was holding a new born baby in my arms. He had been abandoned by his mother, found by the side of the road and taken into the St Vincent Creche, attached to Holy Family Hospital – along with dozens of other children who had been similarly abandoned, usually because they’d been born to single mothers in what’s often still a fiercely patriarchal and puritanical society. But other stories from the crèche and the wards remind you of some of the even bigger challenges of the region.

The hospital has the best resourced maternity unit in the whole of the West Bank, equal to the best in Israel; we were privileged to be taken in to the intensive care unit to see babies born at twenty five weeks who had survived thanks to the care offered by the astonishing staff of this institution. But because of the current storms of political conflict within Palestine and the local and international sanctions against the Palestinian government, no-one is sure where the next month’s salary is coming from. For the state-of-the-art equipment, they depend on foreign donations. Keeping a child alive in the neonatal units costs at the very least hundreds of dollars a day; and there is no governmental budget to help. All of us in our group of pilgrims felt that we were witnessing a continuing miracle of dedication, achieving standards any British hospital would be proud of with next to no reliable fallback in financial and organisational terms.

And what stuck in my mind and I’m sure the minds of my colleagues was a remark made by Dr Robert Tabash, the medical director as we stood over an incubator in the intensive ward. All of this was important, he said, simply because ‘the poorest deserve the best’ (I promised I would quote him today by name; it’s the least I can do to give him the honour he merits). ‘The poorest deserve the best’: when you hear that, I wonder if you can take in just how revolutionary it is. They do not deserve what’s left over when the more prosperous have had their fill, or what can be patched together on a minimal budget as some sort of damage limitation. And they don’t ‘deserve’ the best because they’ve worked for it and everyone agrees they’ve earned it. They deserve it simply because their need is what it is and because where human dignity is least obvious it’s most important to make a fuss about it. And – to put it as plainly as possible – this is probably the most radically unique and new thing in Christmas itself brings into the world.

The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that in God’s economy, the overflow of riches happens where the need is greatest; where human dignity is most obscured, grace blazes out in excessive and extravagant ways to remedy the balance. In one famous passage in the Old Testament, God tells his people that they have been chosen precisely because they were the weakest and most helpless community around, slaves and exiles. St Paul – tactful as ever - reminds his converts at Corinth in his first letter to them that they represent the dregs of the urban population. And the one who was born at Bethlehem on Christmas day rounded on the prosperous and righteous of his times and said, ‘You can look after yourselves; the others can’t’.

The poorest deserve the best. But, as Jesus clearly knew, poverty has many faces. And the great simplicity of the gospel’s words has to deal with the terrible complexity of situations where different communities experience different kinds of ‘poverty’ and conflicts of interests and priority arise. Nowhere is this more agonising than in the Holy Land. No European can or should forget that the state of Israel exists because the Western powers determined after the last war that the Jewish people deserved the best; their culture, their history, their lives had been ravaged in ways the rest of us could barely imagine. What could be done for a people whose poverty was such that they had no homeland, who had lived for centuries as largely unwelcome guests among other nations and who, when the nightmare began, had no doors of their own to close against a murdering enemy? Today, behind the facade of a ‘normal’, prosperous Israeli state, that kind of poverty is remembered and felt more bitterly than ever.

Cross the frontier, the frontier marked by the security barrier, and you see the other sorts of poverty: the 60% unemployment, the unpaid teachers and nurses, the people who cannot travel to their farms and olive groves because of the wall. No normality here; and for every young Palestinian passionately committed to staying in the place of their birth to serve their people, there are many whose anger builds daily, poisoning their lives and steering them towards a politics of despair and violence.

The poorest deserve the best. So who ‘deserves’ our support? Never mind the politics for now; as soon as we try to sort out which we give the advantage to we shall be deciding to some extent who we’re against; and that will undoubtedly create another round of poverty and anger and bitterness.

One of the most chilling things on this journey to the Holy Land was the almost total absence in both major communities of any belief that there was a political solution to hand. So step back from that for a moment and ask, ‘What do both the communities in the Holy Land ask from us – not just from that convenient abstraction, the “international community”, but from you and me?’ Both deserve the best; and the best we can give them in such circumstances is at least the assurance of friendship. Go and see, go and listen; let them know, Israelis and Palestinians alike, that they will be heard and not forgotten. Both communities in their different ways dread –with good reason – a future in which they will be allowed to disappear while the world looks elsewhere. The beginning of some confidence in the possibility of a future is the assurance that there are enough people in the world committed to not looking away and pretending it isn’t happening. It may not sound like a great deal, but it is open to all of us to do; and without friendship, it isn’t possible to ask of both communities the hard questions that have to be asked, the questions about the killing of the innocent and the brutal rejection of each other’s dignity and liberty.

It is open to us; and for us as Christians it is imperative. ‘The poorest deserve the best’ is one of the things that we know with utter certainty in the light of Christmas and its good news. The tragedies of the Holy Land are not the problems of exotic barbarians far away; they are signs of the underlying tragedies that cripple all human life, individual and collective. Every wall we build to defend ourselves and keep out what may destroy us is also a wall that keeps us in and that will change us in ways we did not choose or want. Every human solution to fears and threats generates a new set of fears and threats. Whether we are thinking of security barriers, Trident missiles or simply the tactics we use as individuals to keep each other at a safe distance, the same shadow appears. Defences do something terrible to us as well as to our real and imagined enemies.

Humanity itself suffers from poverty, the moral and imaginative poverty that time and again reproduces the same patterns of fear and violence. That beautiful carol, ‘This is the truth sent from above’, speaks of our history as one of ‘ruin’ – ‘Adam and Eve ‘ruined all, both you and me/ And all of their posterity’, so that ‘We were heirs to endless woes’. The family fortune has been lost. Whether we know it or not, the inheritance of humanity, the birthright of humanity, has been squandered. We were born to glory, to the dignity of being God’s children, free and loving and joyful; but the accounts are in the red, the capital is tied up, we don’t know what there is for the future.

‘We were heirs to endless woes/ Till God the Lord did interpose.’ The poorest deserved the best in God’s eyes. Not because we had earned it and everyone agreed that it was right and proper, but because God saw the depth of our human tragedy and his power and glory overflowed into that dark space, into that ruined depth. Not one of us, not even the most confident lawkeeping and godly person, can in truth look after themselves. When Jesus has reproached the respectable who complain that he spends all his time with the unrespectable, he lets them know that if they could just recognise their own poverty, he would be with them at once with the same compassion. We have betrayed our dignity and wasted our inheritance. And God does not let us have what’s left over from the grace given to holy and honourable people, he doesn’t look around for some small bonus that might come from the end-of-year surplus in the budget. He gives the best: himself; his life, his presence, in his eternal Son and Word; he gives Jesus to be born, to die and rise again and to call us into full fellowship with him in the Spirit. He gives us his own passion and urgency to go where human dignity is most threatened and pour out extravagantly the riches of love.

The poorest deserve the best. Our world and our nation are not organised on that principle and perhaps they never will be. But the truth doesn’t change, ‘the truth sent from above’, about our own universal ruin and restoration and about what that lays upon us when we look at the various specific poverties we confront in our human family. We revert so readily to the idea that love must go where merit lies, that help must follow merit and achievement. But God thinks otherwise it seems.

The child I held last Friday had no merits and achievements; he deserved the best in spite of – or because of? - having nothing but his helplessness. We are used at Christmas to singing about the poor helpless child of Bethlehem whom we will rock and keep warm and cradle. But the great mystery of the day, the joy and shock of it, is that it is Jesus Christ who picks us up, helpless children, abandoned, ruined, and promises us everything that he can give. And as he gives, he makes us grow, and sends us to make the same promise in his name to all, whatever the conflicts, whatever the guilt. To all he offers the authority to be children of God; from his fullness we may all receive, grace upon grace.

© Rowan Williams 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas :-)

- Adoration of the Magi ... John Duncan

Saturday, December 23, 2006

David B Hart, continued ...

Before I go on to the subject of the post - more on David Hart's book, The Doors of the Sea - I want to point something out ...

There are blogs in blogdom where one can find brilliant and insightful discussions of David Hart's theology ... this isn't one of them. I'm more thinking out loud in my posts on him, hoping for comments from others, so that I can come to understand better (or at all) his ideas. Just don't want anyone to be disappointed :-) so ...

The last time I posted on the Doors of the Sea, Hart had discussed what he saw as a pretty good "problem of evil" argument by Dostoevsky (or Dostoyevsky, as Hart spells it) ... he had the character of Ivan wonder ... if you could bring about a universal and final beatitude for all beings by torturing one small creature [in this case, a little girl] to death, would you think the price acceptable?

I've now finished the book, and in it Hart writes that suffering and evil are meaningless - not part of God's plan in the sense of a "lesson" or a punishment, and are worthy of our hatred. - and that while God doesn't will evil, he permits it ... that our world is "fallen" and at the mercy of death (the devil), that it's this situation that causes life's evils, and that good will triumph in the end (see the Eastern Orthodox ransom theory of atonement).

It seems like Hart answers Ivan's argument by saying that he's asking the wrong question ... Ivan wonders how an all good and all powerful God can cause suffering in the world, even to bring about good eventual ends, but as I wrote above, Hart's God doesn't "cause" but merely "allows" evil.

But is that God so different than the one Ivan imagines? God doesn't cause evil and suffering but it's the price he allows us to pay. Hart admits that his theory would probably not satisfy Ivan, who might prefer oblivion to a life of free wiil that's bought with suffering, not only one's own, but also the suffering of others. I said in my last post that Ivan's argument is mine, and here too, I think I would agree with him.

Having said that, I have to admit, by the end of reading Hart's book, I was moved and touched, and more mixed up than ever.

Here below is a little (sorry for the hatchet job) of what Hart writes, just after giving Dostoevsky's argument ...


What ... is "nature" or the natural world? ... It is easy, and among the most spontaneous movements of the soul, to revere the God glimpsed in the iridescence of flowered meadows .... 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 yeild 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 ...

The Christian should see two realities at once ... 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," and 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 ....

Christian thought, from the outset, denies that (in themselves) suffering, death, and evil have any ultimate value or any spiritual meaning at all. It claims that they are cosmic contingencies, ontological shadows, intrinsically devoid of substance or purpose, however much God may - under the conditions of a fallen order - make them the occassions for accomplishing his good ends ....

In the New Testament, our condition as fallen creatures is explicitly portrayed as a subjugation to the subsidiary and often mutinous angelic and demonic "powers," which are not able to defeat God's transcendant and providential governance of all things, but which certainly are able to act against him within the limits of cosmic time ... The cosmos, then, is divided between two kingdoms, that of God and that of death. And while God must triumph, death remains mighty and terrible until the end.

... either one embraces the mystery of created freedom and accepts that the union of free spiritual creatures with the God of love is a thing so wonderful that the power of creation to enslave itself to death must be permitted by God; or one judges that not even such rational freedom is worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice and the consequences that follow from it ...

Our faith is in a God who has come to rescue his creation from the absurdity of sin, the emptyness and waste of death - the forces, whether calculating malevolence or imbecile chance - that shatter living souls .... to see the goodness indwelling all creation requires a labor of vision that only a faith in Easter can sustain; but it is there, effulgent, unfading, innocent, but languishing in bondage to corruption, groaning in anticipation of a glory yet to be revealed, both a promise of the Kingdom yet to come and a portent of its beauty.

Until that final glory, however, the world remains divided between two kingdoms, where light and darkness, life and death grow up together and await the harvest. In such a world, our portion is charity, and our sustenance is faith, and so it will be until the end of days .... and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away, and he that sits upon the throne will say, "Behold, I make all things new."


Friday, December 22, 2006

Star of Wonder

I came across something today, which was new to me, science-challenged as I am, but which most people probably already know ...

Giotto's fresco, The Adoration of the Magi, has a realistically represented image of Halley's comet (which appeared over Europe in 1301) above the nativity stable, as the star of Bethlehem ... :-)

- Image of the nucleus of Comet Halley as viewed by Vega 2

- Giotto's Adoration of the Magi

- Science & Technology

Ethical Giving

In the Christmas Meme that's going around, there's a question ... do you like better to give or receive presents? I came across a page at Sacred Space (in their Advent section) on Ethical Giving, and it made me think. Here's what's on the page ...


‘It is more blessed to give rather than receive’ (Acts 20:35). A quote from the Bible which many of us have seen or heard often but how many of us have actually thought about what this quote means? This simple sentence sums up the entire concept of Christian giving and sharing with our brothers and sisters wherever they may be.

This concept takes on a special significance at Christmas. In our increasingly consumer-driven society of today, it is easy to be swept up in the secular aspects of the season. We are bombarded by advertising from September onwards aimed at getting us to spend more on goods that we don’t need. A never-ending spiral of wanting more than those around us can see us totally losing sight of the big picture. What is the big picture? It’s a very simple one.

Advent is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the antithesis of the glitz and commercialism of the modern Christmas. It is a time to reflect on all that is good in our lives and indeed a time to thank God for all that we have.

Millions of people around the world will die over the Christmas period from hunger, disease and conflict. These are the people that Jesus Christ surrounded himself with during his time on earth.

It is time for us to consider those less fortunate than ourselves and we can show our solidarity with them in the simplest of ways. This Christmas Trócaire, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland, is offering people a tangible way to directly help families in developing countries through its Global Gift campaign. The campaign offers a collection of practical life-saving gifts that people can purchase on behalf of friends and loved ones and Trócaire will distribute to those vulnerable families in the developing world.

The gifts include birth certificates for children in Mozambique so they can avail of state services; olive trees for farmers in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; kits to help returning refugees in Sudan; seeds and tools for communities in Liberia; goats for rural communities in Africa; grain storage facilities to help farmers in Central America; care provision for orphans affected by HIV/AIDS; the gift of water to help communities all over the world and houses for Burmese refugees in Thailand.

So this Christmas try to remember what the season of Advent should be about and help those who are crying out for justice in the world.

For further information on the Global Gift campaign go to:

Thursday, December 21, 2006


This week, church leaders from Britain are on pilgrimage in Bethlehem. Here's a little from a story in today's Guardian - Religious leaders arrive in Bethlehem for three-day pilgrimage ...

The heads of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches in England have arrived in Bethlehem for a three-day Christmas pilgrimage to the West Bank town. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, are leading prayers for the beleaguered town, which is separated from nearby Jerusalem by the Israeli "security barrier" ....

Before leaving for Israel, Dr Williams said that the purpose of the trip was to "be alongside people, Christians, Jews and Muslims, whose lives have been wrecked in different ways by terrorism and by the sense that they're hated and feared by each other. "We'll be with people who are really desperate to find some sort of hope, some way out of the cycle of violence and insecurity." ...

The two men will take part in an ecumenical service at the Grotto of the Nativity, which is believed by Christians to represent the place of the birth of the saviour, Jesus Christ ...

There's also a story at The Tablet - Go Now to Bethlehem - written by someone who spent last year in retreat in Bethlehem. Here's some of that story below ...


The narrow, ancient streets, with their gorgeous views over terraced hills full of olive, apricot and almond trees, seem to echo with the steps of Mary and Joseph walking to the cave in Manger Square. Pondering the night sky in the Shepherds' Fields, it is easy to catch the wonder of that sky full of light and angels, and to see the Star beckoning us to "go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place" (Luke 2:15). One cannot linger in the Church of the Nativity without reflecting on the light and hope of the world that was born there: God's passionate love for humanity appears captured in the very fabric of the town ....

The Judaean desert is less than half an hour's drive east of Bethlehem, and is where early monasticism took hold. The jewel is Mar Saba, memorably depicted in William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain: a fifth-century Greek Orthodox monastery clinging to a cliff surrounded by the caves where thousands of monks once lived. The experience of the desert - the stillness, the parched land under a cloudless sky, the dromedaries on the horizon - is one of extraordinary power, and prayer is effortless ....

The desert and olive-grove scrub of Jerusalem-Bethlehem-Jericho gives way to green as you drive north towards the Sea of Galilee. This was the base of Jesus' ministry, especially around Capernaum, where Peter and his family lived. The excavated ruins are looked after by Franciscans, who also have care of the Mount of the Beatitudes nearby. These hills are made for walking, and include many of the villages and places where teaching and miracles took place. A short walk down the hill from the Mount is Tabgha, a German Benedictine monastery on the shore, where visitors are warmly invited to join the monks each day for the Office and Mass. Their church is built over a Byzantine mosaic of the loaves and fishes, and the monks keep a lighted candle on the rock where, it is thought, Jesus performed that miracle. It is quiet, and there are few distractions, allowing you calmly to enjoy the placid sea and its herons.

Nearby is an acoustically perfect bay where Jesus spoke from the boat to the multitudes on the shore. Looking across to the other side of the sea - known in biblical times as the Decapolis, where pagans lived - is a recently discovered cave that scholars say could be the one where the Gerasene demoniac howled and gashed himself. Best accompanied by Scripture, all these sites and scenes of Jesus' ministry need plenty of time to be absorbed .... This makes the distinction between the pilgrimage that aims to visit as many sacred sites as possible, and the retreat that allows time for contemplation of the places Scripture records. The events of Divine Revelation have flowed into history, but the places in which God revealed himself to humanity remain ever present. It was all a long time ago; and it is all now ...


- Grotto of the Nativity

- Church of the Nativity

Read more about the Church of the Nativity in the BBC article Church with a turbulent history


Today (or tomorrow?) is the winter solstice ... thanks to Talmida for reminding me :-). Wikipedia says ...

Many cultures celebrate the winter and summer solstices, or both the solstices and equinoxes, or even the solstices, equinoxes and the midpoints between them (e.g., in some pagan cultures). One well-known example of this is Christmas. Similarly, many spring-time festivals are related to the vernal equinox. Christian Catholic cultures, as well as Nordic Christian protestant cultures, also celebrate the summer solstice in the form of the feast of St. John (June 23–June 24; see St. John's Night, St. John's Eve, Juhannus, Sankt Hans Aften, etc.). Jewish cultures celebrate especially the equinoxes (Passover and Rosh Hashanah); in Japan, all four major season days are celebrated (see Setsubun). Many other summer solstice festivals exist (e.g., the Wiccan Litha); likewise for winter solstice festivals (Yalda, Saturnalia, Karachun, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Ásatrúar — see the list of winter festivals for more).

- Glastonbury Tor, winter solstice sunrise

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lk 1:26-38

The Annunciation ...

- Dante Gabriel Rossetti

- Fra Angelico

- Edward Burne-Jones

- Bernardino di Betto

- JW Waterhouse

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Medieval Morsels

For some reason, the Christmas season makes me feel medieval, so here are a few medieval recipes below, from a great website, Gode Cookery ... those of you that are carnivores, visit their site for meat/fish recipes :-)

Perys in Confyte

A recipe for baked pears, from 15th century England

Perys in confyte. Take hony; boyle hit a lytill. Do theryn sigure, poudyr of galentyn & clovis, brucet anneyce, safron, & saundris, & cast theryn the peris, sodyn & paryd & cutt in pecys, & wyn & venyger. Sesyn hit up with poudyr of canell so that hit be broun ynow.

(Pears in Syrup. Take honey; boil it a little. Add sugar, spices, cloves, anise sauce, saffron, & sandalwood, & add the pears, boiled & pared & cut in pieces, & wine & vinegar. Season it with enough cinnamon powder that it is brown.)

Modern version ...

* 3 lbs. pears, peeled, cored, & sliced
* 1/3 cup honey
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/2 tsp. of any of the following spices, separate or in combination: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cubeb, galingale, etc.
* 1 tsp. cardamom
* 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
* 1 tsp. anise seed, crushed, mixed with 1/4 tsp. sugar
* few threads saffron (or few drops yellow food coloring)
* few drops red food coloring
* 1/2 cup red wine
* 1 tbs. cider vinegar
* cinnamon (to garnish)

Boil the pears in water until just tender; drain and set aside. Add enough water (about a teaspoon or so) to the anise/sugar mixture to make a thin sauce. Bring the honey to a low boil; remove the scum as it rises to the surface. Add sugar, spices, anise sauce, & food coloring(s) and continue cooking until sugar is dissolved. Gently stir in pears and the wine & vinegar. cook for a few more minutes, until pears have warmed, then remove from heat. Serve hot or cold, garnished with cinnamon on top. Saffron, the stigmas of a certain type of crocus, was used extensively in Medieval cooking primarily for coloring, and was prized for the shade of orangish-yellow it imparted to food. Saffron today is very expensive, and since in small amounts it adds no discernible flavor in cooking, a yellow or orange food dye is a financially-wise substitute. Saundris, or sandalwood, was used primarily by Medieval cooks as a red food dye. It can taste rather nasty if not used properly, and is only recommend for authenticity's sake. Red food coloring is much cheaper and easier to find.



A recipe for elderflower cheesecake, from 14th century England

Sambocade. Take and make a crust in a trap & take cruddes and wryng out þe wheyze and drawe hem þurgh a straynour and put hit in þe crust. Do þerto sugar the þridde part, & somdel whyte of ayren, & shake þerin blomes of elren; & bake it vp with eurose, & messe it forth.

(Elderflower Cheesecake. Take and make a crust in a pie pan & take curds and wring out the whey and pass it through a strainer and put it in the pie shell. Add sugar (a "þridde part" - about 1/3 cup), and a portion of egg whites, and add dried elderflowers; and bake it with rosewater, and serve it.)

Modern version ...

This version of Sambocade is a combination of the recipes from Forme of Cury and The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby, Opened, posthumously printed in 1699.

* 1 nine-inch pie shell
* 2 Tbs. heavy cream
* 2 Tbs. dried elderflowers
* 3/4 lb. cottage cheese
* 3/4 lb. ricotta cheese
* 3 eggs
* ¼ lb. butter
* 1/3 cup sugar
* ¼ tsp. cloves
* ¼ tsp. mace
* 1 Tbs. rosewater (optional)

Combine all ingredients and blend thoroughly. (A food processor or blender will do the job nicely.) Pour mixture into pie shell. Bake at 350° F for 45 minutes to an hour, or until filling has set and the crust is a golden brown. Let cool and serve. Elderflowers can be found at natural food stores, herb & spice specialty shops, stores that carry exotic teas, etc. I find them at my local food co-operative. Don't use a substitution - the flavor of elderflowers is unique and the taste of the final product depends on the real thing. Rosewater is a remarkable liquid that can be found in Oriental, Indian, and other imported food stores. The rose aroma & flavor are strong and powerful - be sure to use the real thing and not a substitute.


Mushroom Pasty

A recipe for mushroom and cheese pie, from 14th century France

Mushrooms of one night be the best and they be little and red within and closed at the top; and they must be peeled and then washed in hot water and parboiled and if you wish to put them in a pasty add oil, cheese and spice powder.

Modern version ...

* 1-1 1/2 lbs. whole button or sliced mushrooms
* 2 tbs. olive oil
* 1/2 cup grated or shredded cheese
* 1/2 tsp. each salt and ginger
* 1/4 tsp. pepper
* one 9" pie shell (lid optional)

Parboil or sauté the mushrooms; drain. Add oil, cheese, and spices. Mix well. Place in pie shell, add lid if desired, and bake at 350° F for 35-40 minutes, or until pastry is a golden brown.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dr. Nick Trakakis / Poems

Below are a couple of poems from Silent Transfigurations., a book of personal reflections and poetry by Dr. Nick Trakakis ....

Nobody looks for us anymore
So we have become spies
So that we may start looking
With our private eyes
For a sun behind the clouds
In the midst of summer
Wearing our hats and heavy overcoats
Looking for any signs
As to where our wasted love
Has disappeared to
We become a law unto ourselves
Concealing evidence
Lying to authorities
Breaking into homes
Not washing our cars
Not washing our clothes
Not working from 9 to 5
“No thanks:
I’d rather eat glass.”
Our tools we sharpen
Our lenses we polish
As we set out
To slowly take down
All illusions.

For Andrew, with gratitude

It seems
the Spirit has chosen to
whisper its deepest secrets
into your ear
for only a soul as mysterious as yours
only hands as supple as yours
only a mind as discerning as yours
only a heart as broken and whole as yours
could create
such luminous reflections, or are they reminders
of the face of the Other
floating signifiers
of traces of the Invisible.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Sunday of Advent

From The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ ...

Now burn, new born to the world,
Doubled-naturèd name,
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;
Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;
A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fire hard-hurled.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

An Unfinished Life

This week's DVD didn't turn out to be the Prophecy after all ... my sister loaned me a movie which I watched instead ... An Unfinished Life, starring Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Lopez. It's a hard film for me to describe, but it touched me, and I think it will stay with me a long time. Here below is some of what Roger Ebert wrote of it in his review ...


The story takes place on a rundown ranch outside Ishawooa, Wyo. It has seen better days. So has its owner, Einar Gilkyson (Redford) and his longtime ranch hand Mitch (Freeman), who lives in the little house behind the bigger one. Mitch was mauled a year ago by a bear, and is an invalid, given a daily needle of morphine by Einar. These men are essentially awaiting death together when they get visitors: Jean (Lopez) is the widow of Einar's son, who was killed in a car crash a dozen years ago. Griff (Becca Gardner) is Einar's granddaughter.

Einar thinks he hates Jean. He blames her for his son's death. She doesn't want to be at the ranch, but she has no choice; her latest boyfriend, Gary (Damien Lewis) beats her, and she has fled from him. It is a foregone conclusion, I suppose, that Einar will eventually unbend enough to love Griff, who after all is his son's child, and true also that Mitch is the ranch's reservoir of decency. The local sheriff (Josh Lucas) is not indifferent to the arrival in a small town of a good-looking woman.

It's not often noted, but Redford plays anger well. His face gets tight and he looks away. Freeman never seems to be playing anything; he sees what he sees. The four characters seem to be stuck, and then they're budged by the arrival of two predators: The bear comes back, and so does Gary the boyfriend. The bear (played by Bart, who had the title role in "The Bear"), is more likable, because after all he behaves according to his nature. But he is captured and sold off to a shabby local zoo, so that yokels can stare at him through the steel mesh of a cage.

Gary on the other hand is a psychopath whose gearbox includes a setting for charm. We can almost see what Jean almost saw in him. Now he lurks around town, intimidated even by the two old men on the ranch, one of them an invalid, because wife-beaters by their nature are cowards. Sooner or later the matter of Gary will have to be settled. Less clear is the fate of the bear.

The unfinished life in the title at first seems to refer to Einar's dead son. Then we realize the death has put Einar, Jean, Mitch and Griff all on hold. Until they deal with it, they can't get on with things. How they deal with it is not original, but it is sincere and the actors are convincing .... as Jean tries to put her life back together, her healing makes it possible for the others to get on with things. That is enough.

Spirit of Light or Darkness?

Today my movie came from Netflix, and it wasn't the one I ordered, but one further down on my list. I have the cheapest version of Netflix, where you can't get a new one until you've sent the old one back, so if the wrong one comes, you learn to love it. Instead of Wickerman, I got The Prophecy (1995). It's not a bad movie ... stars Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas ... and, according to Wikipedia, tells about a war among the angelic host ...

The film opens with a brief prologue in an unnamed desert where Simon (Eric Stoltz), an angel, stands over the skeleton of another angel. Through voiceover, he reveals that an angelic war has broken out in heaven and the angelic host is divided, much like in the first angelic war in which Satan was cast out of heaven. The introduction of Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) follows, as he is about to be ordained as a priest of the Catholic Church but is stricken by horrific visions of angels engaging in war against each other. The film then jumps forward an unspecified number of years. Having lost his faith, Thomas has abandoned the church and has become a detective with the LAPD ...

What's not to love? :-) But on a more serious note, this movie reminded me of a book by Jules J. Toner SJ - Spirit of Light or Darkness? As he subtitles it, it's a casebook for studying the discernment of spirits. It's been in my "to read" pile for a long time, meant to help me with the online retreat, as Ignatius of Loyola gives rules for the discernment of spirits in his Spiritual Exercises. The idea addressed is an interesting one - that angels (spirits) influence our feelings, thoughts, behavior ... and not always for the good.

Read more about Ignatian discernment of spirits at from John Veltri SJ or from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Spirits of darkness? The Nephilim were spoken of in the Torah and some non-canonical Christian books, though the classic work on "when angels go bad" is probably Paradise Lost. Influencing us? St. Ignatius wasn't alone in thinking angels, positive and negative, take an interest in humanity ... people as disparate as John Dee and Joseph Smith have claimed to have heard from them.

I don't know whether spirits of light or of darkness actually exist, nor whether they influence us. I like the idea of discernment, though, just in case, for as Rilke noted in The First Elegy, angels can be awe-full ...

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Have you guys been watching The Lost Room? It's a science fiction minieries, starring Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), about a police detective who loses his eight year old daughter in a mysterious out-of-phase motel room, and who hopes to get her back through the manipulation of various missing relic-like "objects" from the room. Here's what Wikipedia says of it ...

The series revolves around at least 100 everyday items that possess unusual powers, such as a comb that can stop time for ten seconds, or a pen that microwaves anything its tip touches. The incident that caused the objects to be imbued with the extraordinary endowments is referred to as "The Event" and it occured on May 4, 1961 at 1:20 P.M.. Some characters have theorized that God is dead and the objects are pieces of His corpse, imbued with His powers, or that the objects originate from part of the universe experiencing a fluke in physics, allowing the objects to defy natural laws. It is said that anybody who collects all the items and returns them to their "rightful place" will achieve "divinity" though there are some individuals who believe that these items should be destroyed ...

- Krause

And here's some of the New York Post review ...

"Our human interaction with the objects around us is really a fascinating Rorschach test, whether it's in this story or in our own lives," Krause reflected yesterday in a conference call with reporters. "I had a conversation recently with somebody about telecommunications and how now, with the Blackberry or the Treo - these sort of superphones - these objects become so important to people.

"And so many times the obsession that we have with objects in our lives can destroy or hamper relationships with other people, either on a large scale between nations or between just two people."

Whoa! Hold on there, Peter, you're getting ahead of yourself.

For one thing, the objects in the miniseries are a lot less complicated than the handheld gadgets to which we are so devoted today.

The objects in "The Lost Room" represent a lost world. They are from 1961, and they originate from a mysterious motel room on the old Route 66 near Gallup, N.M.

That's the "lost room" of the title, and you won't learn what happened there (on May 4, 1961) until the third night of this otherworldly miniseries, which also stars Julianna Margulies, Kevin Pollak, Elle Fanning (Dakota's little sister), Chris Bauer ("The Wire," "Smith"), Margaret Cho, Dennis Christopher and John Beasley ("Everwood") ...

The key is one of the most powerful of all the objects and consequently, it is one of the most sought-after by several competing, fanatic groups bent on collecting all the objects.

If the miniseries sounds complicated, it really isn't. Basically, what happens is this: The objects make everyone crazy who comes into contact with them.

And the quality of their lives declines as well. Krause plays a Pittsburgh homicide cop who comes into possession of the key, which soon causes his daughter (Fanning) to go missing.

Here's what he meant by the Rorschach test analogy. "For the characters in the [miniseries], their [true] character is revealed through their interaction with the objects," Krause said of watching the first two parts of "The Lost Room."

His analysis rings true. And it's also true that "The Lost Room" is a darned fine miniseries with tons of potential to become a regular series on Sci Fi.

So far, it's pretty interesting and worth a watch ... the last part airs Wednesday night.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Interactive Advent Calendars

Update for 2008 ..... Beliefnet has another interactive advent calendar here with same pic as below .... BBC Radio 3 has a Bach musical advent calendar here ... and San Francisco's Grace Cathedral's site has an advent calendar here.

Thanks to Viola and Mark for their post on interesctive advent calendars. Of the ones they listed, my favorite is Dr. Who's :-) but there's also a very nice one at BeliefNet. Pics of them are below, but you have to visit the sites to use the interactive features.

- calendar at BeliefNet

- the faith calender from BBC's site

- Dr. Who's calendar, also from the BBC

The Desert

After the last post on St. Anthony, my eye was caught by a related article - Current Trends:The Desert as Reality and Symbol by Father Donald Goergen, O.P.. What is it about the desert that so attracts spiritual seekers? I know the idea of the desert, or more rightly of being alone, is tempting to me because I have such a hard time being around people ... but here below, Fr. Goergen explores the desert, and the thought that the journey into that isolation ends with a return from it. The article is long, so I've just posted parts of it, beginning with Fr. Goergen's excerpt from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, A Romance by Lord Byron ...


Oh! that the Desert were my dwelling place,
With one fair Spirit for my minister,
That I might all forget the human race,
And, hating no one, love but only her!
Ye Elements! -- in whose ennobling stir
I feel myself exalted -- Can ye not
Accord me such a being? Do I err
In deeming such inhabit many a spot?
Though with them to converse can rarely be our lot.

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet can not all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin -- his control
Stops with the shore; -- upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknowns.

... the desert. Few words are heard more frequently in the language of contemporary spirituality, and few are more expressive of the traditional roots of the Judeo-Christian experience. The desert experience was one of the formative experiences in Israel's history as it was later theologically reflected upon. Both Moses and Elijah conjure up images of the desert, and greater prophets than this there could not be. Christian origins, too, cannot avoid the role of the Judean wilderness for John, the baptizer, and also for Jesus. Even Paul speaks of traveling into Arabia after his conversion (Gal. 1:17). The religious quality of the desert has come home to me in a personal way when I have had the opportunity to be there, once at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico for forty days in 1979, and again on an excursion from the Ecole Biblique de Jerusalem into the Negev and Sinai in 1981.

This Judeo-Christian reality or symbol manifests itself over and over. It is not only rooted in our traditions; it is a direction or trend in spirituality today. We hear much talk about a "desert experience" or a "desert day." Susan Muto's A Practical Guide to Spiritual Reading (Dimension Books, 1976) devotes a major section of her book to "Living the Desert Experience." ... People are reading the desert fathers. Athanasius's life of Antony has been one of the volumes to appear in the Paulist series Classics of Western Spirituality ....

When one thinks of desert, one thinks of desertedness and barrenness. Yet it is a barrenness balanced with beauty. ... These two words, unpredictable and surprising, are the two words with which I would describe my own experience of the desert. The unpredictability can be frightening, the surprise enlightening. The desert is simply nature at its best, or at its worst, perhaps at its purest, and this quality it shares with mountains and oceans or seas ....

My first clear impression of this was at Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico, and it again became apparent to me when I had several days to spend on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, in northern Greece. One of the effects of prayer can be described as inner peace. Yet the desert and mountains do not immediately produce this interior reality, precisely because they cause one to focus one's attention outside oneself. One can close one's eyes and pray. But one cannot close one's eyes and capture what the desert, the ocean, and the mountains have to offer -- or when one does, it is for a different reason, as we shall see. These settings of beauty draw one's attention outward. Thus, in contrast to other situations of prayer in which I felt a peace within me, I can describe the experience of the desert only as my becoming part of it, rather than its becoming part of me. It was more difficult to delineate the personal boundaries. The mountains or ocean were too big for me to master like a physical or ascetical exercise. I could only admire, appreciate, be absorbed. Rather than seeing prayer as part of me, it was more akin to seeing me as part of prayer -- which is why nature and beauty and symbol and liturgy are so closely related. We are called upon to participate rather than control ...

The beauty and calm of the desert, once perceived, once felt, be come an alluring and charming temptation as well as a source of divine presence -- the temptation to remain. This does not imply that some are not called to a life there for the sake of the larger Christian community, but rather implies that one ordinarily does " -- not go out into the desert as a home of permanence. That is only for a certain few. The Hebrew people wandered in the desert and never mistook it for the promised land. They did not settle it as later hermits and monks would do. Elijah did not stay on Mount Horeb; that was not its purpose. Nor did John the Baptizer remain in the wilderness. No matter how long he prepared himself in the wilderness, his mission brought him forth from it. And so with Jesus, one of whose temptations we could interpret as the temptation to stay in the desert. But before long he comes forth preaching the good news of the coming reign of God ... The other aspect of this temptation is to see those whose lives are lived there as the holy ones, rather than seeing the holiness of God magnificently manifest in the poor and the alienated, the stranger and widow and orphan of the Hebrew Scriptures, the hungry and the thirsty with whom Jesus identifie ... So this is where the journey into the desert leads us -- back out again ...

- view from Mt. Athos

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dr. Nick Trakakis

Some time ago I posted bits from an article - Becoming Children: The Hidden Meaning of the Incarnation, by Nick Trakakis, a professor of philosophy at Monash University, Australia, and now at the Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame. He was kind enough to make a comment on my post, so I thought I'd check for more of his online writing. Here below is some of what I've found, for those who might be interested ...

- The Infallibility of the Church: An Unorthodox Perspective at Theandros, an Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy.

- What Was the Iconoclast Controversy About? at Theandros, an Online Journal of Orthodox Christian Theology and Philosophy.

- God, Gratuitous Evil, and van Inwagen’s Attempt to Reconcile the Two, Ars Disputandi: The Online Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 3, 2003.

- Does Hard Determinism Render the Problem of Evil even Harder? Ars Disputandi: The Online Journal for Philosophy of Religion, October 12, 2006.

- Entry on The Evidential Problem of Evil in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, published April 2005.

- Salvation in Heaven? with Yujin Nagasawa and Graham Oppy, Philosophical Papers, vol.33, no.1, March 2004, pp.95-117.

- Eschatological Objections to Free Will Theodicy: Free Will, Heaven and Hell

Enjoy :-)

Friday, December 08, 2006

David Hart / Atonement

After seeing posts at The Lesser of Two Weevils and PamBG's Blog on atonement, I thought I'd write a little about it too.

I don't care for the atonement theory, in any form, but it's hard to hold a view contrary to that of someone like Thomas Aquinas :-) so out of curiosity, I looked up the Eastern Orthodox view. I found the ransom theory of atonement, the "classic" or "physical" theory accepted by the church fathers until around the 12th centurty ... it has God paying a ransom (Jesus death) to the devil in order to save those under the devil's power (us). Anselm's theory replaced this, at least in the West, and his theory was later modified by Aquinas.

I then searched for something more on the Orthodox view by David Bentley Hart, as I like his writing style. What I found were references to an article he'd done - A Gift Exceeding Every
Debt: An Eastern Orthodox Appreciation of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo
- in Pro Ecclesia, but it was nowhere online. Then I realized he'd used the article in his book, The Beauty of the Infinite, which was in a depressingly tall pile of unread tomes in my beadroom :-)

If I understand what he's written correctly ( no guarantee of that :-), he wants to reconcile Anselm's (Catholic) "satisfaction" atonement theory with the (Orthodox) "ransom" theory, or rather, he wants to show that reconciliation is not needed ... that interpretations of Anselm, both Eastern and Western, have been misguided and that the two theories are not really different. I've posted a little of what he wrote, below.

An interesting aside, before I post the excerpts ... while I was looking for the Hart article, I came across a group blog that has a brother of his, Fr. Robert Hart (an Anglican priest), as a contributer ... The Continuum

Now, on to the book bits ...


... the notion that Christ's death constitutes an appeasement of divine wrath against sin figures more than marginally in the history of Christain reflection upon salvation, especially in the West. Is it not the case, one might at least ask, that the theology of atonement has usually involved some sense that the death of Christ is required by the Father as a transaction that accomplishes reconciliation, and has therefore made God complicit in the violence of sacrifice? The locus classicus of the "substitution theory" of atonement is, of course, the Cur Deus Homo of Anselm .... If one is to reconsider the presence of violence in Christian sacrificial themes, and not do so with quite the peremptory disregard for tradition that Girard evinces, it would be disingenuous (to say the least) to ignore not only Anselm's influence but the claims his theology makes upon Christian thought ...

The argument of Cur Deus Homo ... Every rational creature is created to partake of beatitude in God, Anselm asserts, in return for which the creature owes God perfect obedience, by withholding which humanity offends infinitely against the divine honor and merits death .... the God-man must come, in order to make satisfaction on humanity's defense ....

But Anselm's argument, thus denuded of every nuance and ambiguity that enrivhes the text from which it is drawn, is susceptible of every causal misconstrual the theological mind can devise .....

... the closer the attention one pays Anselm's argument, the harder it becomes to locate the exact point at which he supposedly breaks from patristic orthodoxy. The divine action follows the same course as in the "classic" model: human sin having disrupted the order of God's good creation, and humanity having been handed over to death and the devil's rule, God enters into a condition of estrangement and slavery to set humanity free .... Anselm's is not a new narrative of salvation. In truth, this facile distinction between a patristic soteriology concerned exclusively with the rescue of humanity from death and a theory of atonement concerned exclusively with remission from guilt - the distinction, that is, between "Physical" and "moral" theories - is supportable, if at all, only in terms of emphasis and imagery; Athanasius, Gregory of nysea, and John of Damascus (to name a few) were no less conscious than Anselm of the guilt overcome by Christ on the cross, nor he any less concerned than they with the Son's campaign against death's dominion .... And it is explicitly not a story about a sustitutionary sacrifice offered as a simple restitution for human guilt, but concerns, rather, the triumph over death, the devil, and sin accomplished in Christ's voluntary self-donation to the Father, which the Father receives (as Gregory the Theologian would say) "by economy", so that its benefits might rebound to those with whom Christ has assumed solidarity ....

Even here, then, in the text that most notoriously expounds the sacrificial logic of atonement, the idea of sacrifice is subverted from within: as the story of Christ's sacrifice belongs not to an ecomony of credit and exchange but to the trinitarian motion of love, it is given entirely as gift - a gift given when it should not have needed to be given again, by God, at a price that we imposed upon him .... the primordiality of the gift is the truth of Christ's paschal donation: the gift God gives in creation continues to be given again, ever more fully, in defiance of all rejection, economy, violence, and indifference; there is no division between justice and mercy in God, on Anselm's account, because both belong already to the giving of the gift - which precedes, exceeds, and annuls all debt.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

St. Anthony

I've been reading a little about St. Anthony. He was something of a hermit, to the extent that he at one point sealed himself in a tomb in the desert to pray ... I fell sort of hermit-like myself, so I find him interesting.

St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote a biography of St. Anthony, c. 360, which was very exciting in a spiritual warfare kind of way. While I can't say I believe in demons, the biography was found intriguing enough by others to inspire a novel by Gustave Flaubert ...

.. and also works of art by the likes of Salvador Dali and Hieronymous Bosch .

The tryptych by Bosch, The Temptation of St. Anthony, c. 1500 ...

- the right side

- the middle

- the left side

And The Temptation of St. Anthony, by Dali, 1945 ...

Here's a little of what Wikipedia says of him ...

Saint Anthony the Great (251 - 356) ... was an Egyptian Christian saint and the outstanding leader among the Desert Fathers, who were Christian monks in the Egyptian desert in the 3rd and 4th centuries .... Anthony is notable for being one of the first ascetics to attempt living in the desert proper, completely cut off from civilization ....

According to Athanasius, the devil fought St Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to a tomb, where he resided and closed the door on himself, depending on some local villagers who brought him food. When the devil perceived his ascetic life and his intense worship, he was envious and beat him mercilessly, leaving him unconscious. When his friends from the local village came to visit him and found him in this condition, they carried him to a church.

After he recovered, he made a second effort and went back to the desert, ... Here he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for some twenty years. According to Athanasius, the devil again resumed his war against Saint Anthony, only this time the phantoms were in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes and scorpions. They appeared as if they were about to attack him or cut him into pieces. But the Saint would laugh at them scornfully and say, "If any of you have any authority over me, only one would have been sufficient to fight me." At his saying this, they disappeared as though in smoke, and God gave him the victory over the devils. While in the fort he only communicated with the outside world by a crevice through which food would be passed and he would say a few words. Saint Anthony would prepare a quantity of bread that would sustain him for six months. He did not allow anyone to enter his cell: whoever came to him, stood outside and listened to his advice.

Then one day he emerged from the fort with the help of villagers to break down the door. By this time most had expected him to have wasted away, or gone insane in his solitary confinement, but he emerged healthy, serene, and enlightened. Everyone was amazed he had been through these trials and emerged spiritually rejuvenated. He was hailed as a hero and from this time forth the legend of Anthony began to spread and grow ...

The biography of St. Anthony, by St. Athanasius, can be read online here.