Thursday, May 27

Lessons from Saints - Jeanne d'Arc

Sunday is the feast of Joan of Arc.

Born in the waning days of the hundred years war, she heard voices and had visions at age 12. Spurred on by these visions, she defied social conventions of the day and came to lead the unification of France for Charles VII. During the course of these battles, she survived a cannonshot to the head, an arrow through her neck and a crossbow bolt through the leg. Eventually captured, she was sold to the English, tried for heresy and burned at the stake at the age of 19.

Throughout her brief life, Jeanne never wavered in her faith and the belief that she was doing the work laid out for her by God. Through war, famine, rape, abandonment, condemnation, trial and death at the hands of the Church - through all of that she never lost faith. Her example in deeds brings to mind the refrain to the hymn "Here I am, Lord"

Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

She heard and she did. May any of us be able to follow her example.

Wednesday, May 26

Lifestyles, Love and teh gay.

Don't blame me, blame Tobias.

He was writing today about Jonathon and David, the two young men from the Old Testament who were, as my partner's mother would say, "special friends". I'll not attempt to parrot Tobias' words, which are much more scholarly and eloquent than mine. What I would like to discuss instead is an issue that is commonly brought up with discussing homosexuality.

There is a common discussion thread which says that sexual orientation is a 'lifestyle choice', not unlike going green or vegetarianism. The underlying thought process is that one can be taught to be attracted to and love a particular type of individual. By logical extension, one could be 'rehabilitated' from a fondness for red-heads or asians or ...well, you get the idea.

For myself, I find this sort of thought process unconscionable and deeply disturbing. As time and distance from the initial 'gay revolution' occurs, we see more and more that the self and other communities share a lot in common in regard to relationships. In short, some folks want serious, meaningful relationships and other don't. Thus, the nature of intimate relationships are gender-bias independent.

The other item we see is that lasting and intimate relationships are formed based upon the bedrock of love. 1 Corinthians 13 has a laundry list of descriptors for love, but the one that Paul left out was that love is blind. The gender, gender-identity, race, creed, colour, socio-economic status or age of the people don't matter. That deep form of love, agape love, is not bound by these things nor is it rational or reasonable in any way. You love who you love.

The only choice, for someone who wishes to have a lasting relationship, is whether or not to recognize this love and whether or not to act upon this love. I could no more choose to love or not love my partner than I could choose or not choose to love the Divine. I can decide to deny my own feelings, to shutter them, or choose to do nothing about those feelings. No matter how you do that, though, the feelings are still there - the love remains.

I guess that's my point, then. That neither society nor religion nor even one's own mind can stop or change that you love as you love. If that's a lifestyle choice, then I guess I've chosen.

Tuesday, May 25

Thinking about churches

There was an article today at CNN which discussed, in brief, the decline in church numbers and possible causes. In the last 20 years, the number of 'non-believers' (atheists, agnostics and people who self-identify as 'no religion') has almost doubled and the number of people self-identifying as some form of non-denominational Christian has tripled in that time frame. Further, the size of 'non-traditional' religions (such as wicca, native american beliefs, spiritualism) has increased by 25 times! In short and brief, the 'traditional' religions are losing ground and have been for quite a while.

There are many people more learned and experienced than I who have been asking how and why this is happening for a very long time. It was a concern in the mid-1980's when I was deacon and it's even more valid now. I believe that I may have an answer, though it's not one that is popular. What I am hearing is that, on the whole, the message of the Church does not resonate with people today. Platitudes on moral rectitude and exhortations of required behaviour are of little help to people facing a world which is seeming far more complex than the halcyon 19th century world these well-meaning folk describe. In truth, a lot of it sounds like someone's great-grandfather telling you how better things were before electricity and otto-mo-biles, when people knew their place. Further (and more disturbing) is that the message of the Church is at odds with the message of it's founder.

The central message of Christ is one of love and forgiveness, of inclusiveness and hope. These are eternal messages. Moral standards change over time, as do attitudes to race, gender, the priesthood, marriage and a laundry list of items which have divided the church in the past and in the present. What defines a church is not those standards and attitudes, nor a building or an infrastructure of clergy. A church is a community of people who believe together, worship together and help each other. To paraphrase the old child's rhyme:

There is no church where there's a steeple,
look in your church, it's made up of people.

Monday, May 24

reflection on mortification and ascetism

Today is the feast of Saint Simeon Stylite the younger and reading about this saint led me, in a round-about manner, to thinking about mortification and asceticism in general. This is a topic which, I shall admit, has piqued my curiosity for some time. There is a long and storied history of devout people who have suffered a myriad of self-inflicted injuries upon themselves for spiritual and/or religious reasons. Why? That is to say, to what end is this willful denigration of the body performed?

For certain Muslims, the act of mortification (zanjeer) is a way of publicly and symbolically mourning the death of their sects founder, Husayn ibn Ali. For some Christians, it is done for the purpose of absolution of perceived sin. For others, it is putting oneself in pain, distress, and discomfort for the purposes of achieving a closer relationship to the spiritual at the cost of their physical form. In the Christian tradition, it appears that the scriptural justification comes from Romans, Galatians and Colossians. What is of interest is that all three talk about how one should pursue the Spirit-filled life, rather than a life of the flesh.

That said, there is a substantive difference here between pursuing the spirit and denying the world. Recall, if you will, that James exhorts that pure religion is to help out those in their distress and to keep yourself unpolluted by the world (James 1:27) and it is Christ which prays for us, his disciples, to be not of the world though we are remain in the world(John 17:11-17).

So where is the Divine in all of this ?

The whole of the earth is a place of wonder and beauty in which the fingerprints of the Pancreator can be seen. We cannot deny who and what we are, which is to say mortal creatures of flesh and blood and thought and emotion. We are created this way, all of us, in the image of the Divine. To strive for a more perfect union with the Divine is commendable and to discard those things which distract us from that pursuit is logical and reasonable. That is a cleansing process to remove ourselves from being of the World.

But to actively denigrate our bodies (whether by pharmacology or flagellation) dishonours the One who made it, desecrating the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is from the Divine (1 Cor 6:19). To purposely cheapen our physical form which is a gift from the Pancreator is no less of an error than to revel in the carnal pleasures.

Friday, May 21


For those of you who are unaware, the Diocese of Phoenix recently made headlines, but not exactly as you would think.

A young lady was gravely ill and needed surgery without which, according to the medical experts, she would surely die. The operation was an abortion of her 11 week-old foetus. After speaking with the doctors, the patient and the patients family, the administrator approved the procedure. The twist here is that the administrator is a nun at a catholic hospital in Phoenix. Note that there is a specific exception (Directive 47 in the U.S. Catholic Church's ethical guidelines for health care providers) which permits the abortion of a fetus to save the life of the mother. That directive did not, however, save Sister Margaret from being excommunicated from the church by her bishop - publicly.

According to Bishop Olmstead (of Phoenix), the action was an automatic excommunication (latæ sententiæ) and Canon law is clear on the matter (accomplice to abortion (Can. 1329, 1398). Of course, excommunication isn't what it used to be. Despite the connotations of Canossa, it is purported to be a remedial measure rather than a punishment. Sister Margaret is encouraged remain in and participate in the church, other than being able to receive the Eucharist or assist in the liturgy. 24 hours after this story gained national attention, CNN has reported that Sister Margaret is, after reconciliation, in communion once again with Rome.

The situation which Sister Margaret was placed in is certainly unenviable. On the one hand, she could deny a life-saving procedure to a young woman in an effort to protect the faith...and both mother and unborn would die. On the other, she could approve the abortion, save the woman's life and condemn them all. Either way, the child would die and Sister Margaret would be an accomplice to this death.

As I was asked recently about my personal situation 'Where is God in all this?' Where is the loving Divine? What would She do? IMHO, saving the woman and healing her wounds (both seen and unseen) seems the loving and caring thing to do. But what of the foetus? As previously stated, it would have perished no matter what choice was made. For myself, I believe that this child never left the state of Grace, so the final disposition of the unborn is secure.

Sister Margaret chose the path of compassion and of life. In that moment, she decided to follow what she believed was right over what 'the rules' dictated. To this, I will paraphrase today's Gospel reading:

“Margaret, Sister of Mercy, do you love me?”

Sister Margaret was distressed that he had said to her a third time,

“Do you love me?” and he said to her,

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to her, “Feed my sheep."

Thursday, May 20

Reflections on freedom

The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage.
- Thucydides

Yesterday I had the occasion to meet with my spiritual advisor, a self-described crone who has exceptional talents (and whom I am inordinately fond of). During the course of our discussions, she pointed out that the Gift of the Divine is the gift of Freedom. That is to say that to be in/of God is to be free, liberated from 'sin', guilt and external expectations. Unsurprisingly, this has led me to think and reflect upon the concept of freedom and what it means to be free.

In the first, I would mention that freedom does not mean to be without responsibility. Whether it be the idea of Karma or the Wiccan three-fold rule, there is a fundamental assertion that any action has an effect and will affect the actor.

That said, by walking in this spiritual journey closer to the Divine, we wander further away from the common constraints placed upon us by the mundane world. This dichotomy is oft-times invisible, for the laws and morays placed upon us all by the outside world commonly conform to, whether at a similar or lower level, the responsibilities we feel exist that come from our own internal morals. Herein lies the key, I do believe.

When we live our lives bound by rules placed upon us by others, we live with the looming spectre of punishment (be it disapproval, disavowal or worse). Our days and years are filled with the 'shoulds' and the 'oughts' and the 'musts'. If, instead, we live our lives in accord with what each of us has derived as appropriate, then the shackles of negativity fall away and we are left with only the benefices which are derived from right-guided action. We do what we wish, knowing what we wish is right and good and proper (because our hearts and minds say so).

To do this, however, one must take responsibility or, as I prefer, ownership. Ownership of our own lives, of our own actions. If we do well or screw up, it's not the fault of our parents or 'society', only us. There is, paradoxically, the recognition of a surrendering of ownership. One must recognize and surrender to the will of the Divine, trusting in faith that the Divine is working in a manner for the betterment of all. This, I believe, is the root understanding of Islam, as the literal translation of the word means 'submission (to Allah)'.

This brings us full circle to Thucydides. To be in God is to be free, and to be free is to have courage. Courage to do what is right because we feel that it is right as well as courage to 'let go and let God'.

Wednesday, May 19

C'mon people, this isn't rocket science

Today's Reading from the Acts of the Apostles:

"So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears. And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

I have never wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said,

‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ "(Acts 20:31-35)

Comment: On the right, there is an image of his Holiness, the Servant of the servants of God, seated on a golden throne and swaddled in embroidered velvet and fur within a room covered in marble. There are a billion people on this planet who live on less than $1/day. The UN reports that, globally, 58% of all deaths are due to starvation.

This poorbox on the left is a very ambivalent image to me, both for the form and for the function. A wooden man with outstretched hand and placard exhorting tithing is a powerful guilt trip, yet the alms collected can do much to feed sheep...if the money isn't used to get new Prada's for his Holiness or build an even bigger mega-church or put another layer of gold on the mosque dome.

"Do you love me? Feed my sheep."

Monday, May 17

Reflections on marriage, the Church and teh gay

In the first, blame Tobias for getting me to think on this.

With the hullabaloo regarding teh gay in Christianity (especially the RC and related communities), I figure I should put out a few thoughts.

My father, who was educated by Jesuits, once told me that marriage was a license by the Church to sin. That is to say, the difference between sin and sanctity is a nod from the clergy. This explanation has bothered me for many years and I have come to the conclusion that marriage is, instead, a state of mind and being. There are many who are married who 'live in sin' and there are many who have the nod of a priest who are not married.

Put differently, marriage is the special bond between two people and this particular state of union between two people predates the Church. It is, even within the bounds of Christian thought, a matter of God and not a matter of man.

"So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." (Matthew 19:6)

To have anyone, be it Mullah or mother or Bishop or brother, forbid two adults from entering into a lasting and loving relationship is to assume the position of the Divine and knowledge which is known only to Him. I say 'adults' not in the legal sense, but rather in the intellectual, moral and emotional sense. So, if it is a matter between these people and the Divine, what's the big deal? Well, there are several issues which I see that cloud and muddy the waters.

The first is the idea that marriage is a static entity. Marriage is not at all the same as it was 100 years ago...which was very different than at the Council of Trent...which was different than when Paul and Luke wrote...which was different than Mosaic Law was written. Whether or not these changes are good or bad are entirely open to interpretation (which I shant go into here), but it is incontrovertible that marriage has changed over time. This has happened because societies change over time, which leads to my second point.

There is a conflation of religion and society in regards to marriage. Traditionally, the principle reason for marriage is a public recognition and acceptance of the union into the community. As religion has been (up until recently) an integral part of the community, there has been a religious component to marriage, offering a certain level of legitimacy by the moral pillar of the community, the priest, giving his blessing to the couple. Because western society has, in the last thousand years, recognized heterosexual relations in this sort of manner, the Church has given sanction to these unions. The societal role of (or lack thereof) homosexual relationships leads me to my next point.

There is a conflation with homosexuals and casual relationships. This is a hard one, because the ground has shifted a lot recently in this part of the world. Time was that gays of all stripes had to hide their true selves from society, which forced them all too often into fleeting trysts. Then, with the sexual revolution and the nascent gay movement, these trysts turned into serial 1-night stands and anonymous sexual encounters. Still, society had nothing for those who wanted a lasting relationship. In the last decade or so, things have changed a lot, especially in Europe. Within the gay community (especially the male gay community, which has been historically much more promiscuous), the novelty of free love has worn off and the value of a loving, lasting relationship has been seen of increasing value. Outside the gay community, many have realized that the differences between 'them' and 'us' are no larger than the differences between 'us' and 'us'.

Bringing us back around, societies change over time and the expectations of people, both in and out of the relationship, have changed. Our societies are in much closer contact with other, different, societies than ever before and these different societies have valid and divergent beliefs and expectations that are rooted in other cultures. That is the underlying issue with the Burqa in France, but that is a matter for a different post.

What doesn't change is the value of a loving and lasting relationship. That bond is what is important. To love God (in whatever form you consider the Divine) and to love one another. After all, isn't that the whole point?

Friday, May 14

obvious now (from Margonaut)

obvious now

it’s obvious

changes are happening

let go of how you “wanted” it to happen & relax

trust that you’re being delivered to where you need to go

let go of all goals except the most general


whatever floats your boat

relax about the specifics

who are you to know what you’ll enjoy most?

and anyway

real Joy beyond happy/sad is already available 24/7

all:ways superimposed on top of every arising


it might take awhile to feel it fully

as the body takes awhile to adjust to the new frequencies!

so until then

cry if you want to

Posted using ShareThis

today's reading

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:9-12)
Thanks, Dad. Subtle as always.

Thursday, May 13

scattered thoughts

Today is the feast of the Ascension. Forty days after Easter, the risen Christ returned to heaven.
So when they had come together, they asked him, 'Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' (Acts 1:6-8)
We do not know the mind of the Divine nor his plans for us or the earth. We are to wait upon the Voice to come to us. As Wadsworth says, "learn to labour and to wait". Waiting is much harder than doing, yet it is precisely that itch to 'do something' which causes a lot of trouble for us. Perhaps that is a goodly part of the problem. We always feel we should be doing something.

I am reminded of Benjamin Hoff's brilliant primer on Taoism The Tao of Pooh. So many of us are like Rabbit, Mr. Busy Backson. Running to and fro, constantly cogitating and calculating. Instead, we should just be. Be still and listen.

"Everything has its own place and function. That applies to people, although many don't seem to realize it, stuck as they are in the wrong job, the wrong marriage, or the wrong house. When you know and respect your Inner Nature, you know where you belong." - Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Wednesday, May 12

odd...and I'm not complaining

It appears that the IT gnomes have recanted their sin of blocking social networks. I have no idea if this permanent or not, but I'm not complaining.

Lessons from Saints - Pancras

Pancras (aka Pancratius) was a boy from Phrygia (now central Turkey) who, after his parents dying in his youth, moved to Rome with his uncle, Dionysius. The pair converted to Christianity in Rome and were later arrested for their faith. Pancras' great faith intrigued CæsarDiocletian, who reportedly questioned the boy and attempted to re-convert him. After turning down the offer of becoming Diocletians adopted son, the Cæsar had him beheaded (as it's the only way to be sure a saint is dead (St. Denis non-withstanding)). His body was recovered by a wealthy woman and preserved, with his relics being translated to England during it's evangelization period and Augustine of Cantebury dedicated the first church in England to Pancras. Legend holds that any who swear a false oath in the presence of the relics will be struck down and die.

Pancras had a choice given to him - death or a life of ease with the only 'cost' to him would be his conscience. For this boy of 14, the choice was not difficult, he would prefer a clean conscience to an easy life. Recent events prove that it is much more difficult for a man of 40. The road ahead for me is still beset by troubles and hardships, to be sure. That said, I realize that my heart and mind are in alignment once again.

One must hold true to one's values, lest you become a rudderless ship blown about by every tempestuous emotion. When (not if) that occurs, one must seize upon the tiller and steer things aright with all alacrity. I may or may not be sailing with a crew in my near future, that part is not up to me. What I do know is that my hand is upon the rudder again and I shall never be sailing alone.

Thursday, May 6

Preach it, mother

"I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much."

- Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Wednesday, May 5

Thwarted by Big Brother

It appears that, for the nonce at least, I will be posting irregularly. Rather shockingly and suddenly, my work connection has decided that Blogspot (and particularly, the login screen) is on the 'porn and gamblin' list of no-no sites and has blocked it appropriately. Simultaneously, they have also screened Live Journal (though that more thoroughly where I can't see anything on LJ), but I'm not nearly as heartbroken about that.

Tuesday, May 4

A Garden of Gesthemane moment

A lot of things have happened to me recently that I won't go into but to say that my perspective on the world and on myself has been changed. I have been faced with an impossible choice and have had to come to grips with an unreasonable situation, knowing that the decision impacts not just yourself, but also those around you who you care most about.

There is a feeling of enforced isolation, of perceived abandonment and the solitude which comes from within, not from without. A pall of dread surrounding the recognition and realization that you will harm those you love and that there is no middle path, no escape or Deus ex Machina which will swoop in and save the day. Like an auto accident, all of these things are playing out in slow motion in front of you, powerless to do anything but watch.

Nobody could possibly understand how that feels.

Oh, wait. "My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death." Ok. At least one person does.

I think I understand now. With all the sums and numbers, things look black and white. But being human, being human is much more than the calculus of things. It is feeling and knowing, striving and growing. It is the pain and joy, the pleasure and grief.

The scene of the Garden of Gesthemane is Yeshua bin Yosef at his most human. Knowing what lay ahead, the cold math said to quit the Garden, to do what is reasonable and expected. The authorites would track them down and, through artifice, kill him. More than that, by doing this, he would condemn all but one of the twelve to a violent end and there would be blood shed over and over in his name. His name. By leaving the Garden, he could save them all, save them from torture and cruel death.

By leaving, by avoiding the situation, he could help them all at the expense of doing the will of his Father. By doing that, he would do what his head said is the right thing, but his heart said was wrong. To do so would be to the short-term benefit of his neighbors, but would dishonour the love of the Father and make a sham of all that had come before. He did not leave, and by embracing that destiny became more than human. By choice he transformed into the avatar known as the Christ.

I think I get it. I am so quickly inclined to think about things, to cogitate and analyze, that my heart becomes obscured. When surrounded by the whirling maelstrom, too often I fail to remain unmoved, too often I act without the synchronicity of both heart and mind. It is not the mind which makes a man, but his heart.

My heart aches. It aches for those who have been harmed and those will be harmed. Most of all, it aches knowing when I needed to hear the most, it was not silence that replied, but that I was not listening.

Forgive me...for I have missed the mark.

Monday, May 3

Contemplation upon Longfellow

A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
"Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, - act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solenm main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

There is more to life than what we see...there are things which survive the grave.
Our hands touch far beyond our reach and old fortune favours the brave.
Worry not for last week or the next, they are ghosts we cannot save.
Work today at work worth doing and thank the Lord for what He gave.