Thursday, May 24, 2007

Greetings in the Interim

Dear Friends,

The last month has been a time of transition – from one job to another via a summer in yet another job, from one residence to another. So, I’ve not been blogging for a while. But I miss it and so will be back at it as soon as I can.

The Lord’s faithfulness and kindness to me over these months has been constant, plentiful and unfailing. Pray always! Without him I – and we – can do nothing.

Fr Ben

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Brush with the Lord

I visited the Art Institute of Chicago today and saw wonderful things - like black vases from China nearly a thousand years old! And of such beauty!

They were beautiful (small “b”) and radiated Beauty (capital “B”). The beauty captured my attention, but the Beauty took my breath away. I think God’s bestows Beauty, which is part of himself, on the artist’s creative process and so blesses the artist, the creation, and the viewer.

At one point today I walked into a room – and gasped: six brush and ink drawings, Korean, late 19th century. I became so peaceful in their presence. They didn’t ask me to solve a puzzle or figure out how the artist “did it.” They were what they were – serene, elegant, evocative. They evoked that part of me – often harried, often hidden – that is peaceful and beautiful.

I believe that when God saw that creation was good, he was seeing the Beauty of creation. And creation, that is, God invites you and me to look for that Beauty in ways special to each of us: a Tiger Woods drive on a challenging fairway, sailboats in the Grant Park marina in Chicago, newly baked bread, a conversation with a friend.

“Count your blessings.” “Find God in all things,” I find I’m sometimes embarrassed to do such things: too pious, too much work. But they are my guide to a better place in myself that’s not about me. I’m always better off when I do this, and always worse off and self-absorbed when I don’t. And I’m better off now, remembering where God found me this afternoon – in some brush and ink drawings.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Brown Eggs, Colored Eggs

First, his mom dropped a dozen eggs in a pot of cold water. Then she pulled the papery brown skins from some yellow onions, added the skins and a little vinegar to the pot, and set the pot over a low flame to come slowly to a boil. Then she turned off the heat and let the water return to room temperature.

His mom dried the now-brown shells of these perfectly cooked hardboiled eggs and rubbed each one with a little bacon grease from the can she kept by the stove, giving each egg a polished luster. The family ate these golden eggs every Good Friday evening with a soup of kale and boiled potatoes thickened with a little oatmeal.

This simple Good Friday meal honored the Lord’s death and prepared the way for the Easter Sunday feast, served this time with brightly colored eggs.

As my friend told me this story about the German-Kentucky family of his boyhood, his face lit up with excitement. Telling a story about something one loves, especially from the distant past, to a good friend of the present brings delight to the teller and the hearer. It deepens their present friendship and honors those about whom the story is told. Today God added his own blessing to my friend’s story-telling. And our friendship glowed with a happiness we cannot give ourselves.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

I walked out of a showing of “300” last night. The New York Times reviewer said that “300” is as violent as Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid. And he is right.

The dominant theme is that Spartan men are real men: gym-goers who are aggressive, domineering, rigid, unyielding, in-charge and in-control. The movie dresses this up as patriotism, the Spartan queen proclaiming that “Freedom isn’t free!” but the message is hard to miss.

So, why, exactly is this movie “stupid”? Primarily, because it is stupidly and wrongly self-congratulatory. First, the Spartan legacy to the West is Thermopylae. The Athenian legacy is philosophy, politics - especially democracy- literature, drama, dance, history, mathematics, architecture, and science.

Second, men – and women – aren’t really in-charge and in-control. For example: American farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops each year. This year thousands of colonies, some numbering 60,000 bees, are disappearing, and $14 billion worth of crops are at stake.

So, what would a Spartan do? Being aggressive, rigid, and unyielding – not to mention being in-charge and in-control - won’t pollinate crops. Even, the art and science of Athens won’t pollinate crops.

Being aggressive, rigid, and in-charge won’t bring about human salvation. Nor will human philosophy, art, history, and science, brilliant as human learning can be. Salvation comes from the one who made the bees – and who sends us little reminders, like disappearing bees, that we’re not in charge.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

It's a Breakable Tomb

Driving through uninhabited parts of this country at night, a friend said to me once, is like being stuck in a sensory deprivation chamber. So is my Lent. I’m in the tomb on Holy Saturday waiting for the Resurrection, another friend said.

Then in the first reading of Sunday’s mass the Lord said to Israel stuck in slavery, Do not remember the things of the past. I am doing something new. Do you not see it?

At first I thought, No, I can’t see anything. Then I remembered an incident or two of only the day before that in fact hold promise for my future. And I remembered that the iris and the crocuses are starting to grow around my house in weather that is warmer and more hospitable.

Flowers, warm weather and little, isolated incidents don’t break the tomb open. But they remind me that the tomb is breakable and impermanent. St Paul says in Sunday’s second reading, I count all as loss because of knowing the surpassing value of Christ Jesus my Lord. The only reality is my relationship with Christ Jesus our Lord. And he in his love for us invites the plants to grow and liberating events to occur – and the tomb to burst and the dead to rise.

A beam of light had penetrated my tomb. Scripture proclaims God’s truth and God’s presence. God found me on Sunday through his Word and gave me reason to keep going.

Monday, March 19, 2007

They Found Freedom

I attended a retreat this weekend for men who are alcoholics in recovery. What a great experience! So much truth and reality! Not to mention good humor, real friendship with one another, and happiness in the present moment.

None of this diminishes or romanticizes what they have all been through. I heard stories of wasted years, blackouts where pieces of their lives disappeared, and broken relationships. But I also heard about professional lives regained, relationships restored and now enjoyed, and a hopeful future.

They were good listeners too. I presided at Saturday’s mass and told a little of my mid-life crisis, which was resolved by my following Steps One, Two, and Three of the Twelve Steps. I didn’t know the Steps back then, but 20 years ago I came to realize that I was powerless over whether my life had meaning or not and that my life had become unmanageable. I came to discover that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity, and so I turned my life over to God as God revealed himself to me.

The men at this retreat listened attentively to my story, asked me sensible and sensitive questions, then told me their stories. They made me part of their fellowship, though I’m not an alcoholic. But I’d suffered powerlessness too and found God looking for me when I was down. And God has led all of us into a new life that we couldn’t have created for ourselves.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Higher, Deeper Place

I came across this just today in an article by Andrew Sullivan, published in Time Magazine, October 9, 2006, adapted from his book The Conservative Soul.

Mr. Sullivan writes, “I remember my grandmother’s faith. She was an Irish immigrant who worked as a servant for priests. In her later years she lived with us, and we would go to Mass together. She was barely literate, the seventh of 13 children. And she could rattle off the Hail Mary with the speed and subtlety of as NASCAR lap. There were times when she embarrassed me – with her broad Irish brogue and reflexive deference to clerical authority….And then, as I winced at her volume in my quiet church, I saw that she was utterly oblivious to those around her. She was someplace else. And there were times when I caught in the middle of saying the Rosary when she seemed to reach another level altogether – a higher, deeper place than I, with all my education and privilege, had reached.”

God saw her faith, felt her devotion, and he found her in her need and her desire.