Friday, June 21, 2013

Whitsunday in Fangorn

(Moved over belated from being posted on Facebook...)

I love it when independent cycles reinforce meaning for one another.
Yesterday’s Reading from The Lord of the Rings, beginning at the 5th chapter of the 3rd book, contained,
“It was not in vain that the young hobbits came with us, if only for Boromir’s sake. But that is not the only part they have to play. They were brought to Fangorn, and their coming was like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains... A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.”

How relevant to Whitsunday! I have been speculating as to the “meaning” of Hobbits, though I don't mean to imply anything so overt as allegory, which Tolkien detested. But in many ways they do seem to be in a sense the operation of the Holy Ghost in the story. They seem to exemplify the Third Theme of Illuvatar, which “seemed at first soft and sweet, a mere rippling of gentle sounds in delicate melodies; but it could not be quenched, and it took to itself power and profundity... It was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came... And [Melkor’s theme] essayed to drown the other music by the violence of its voice, but it seemed that its most triumphant notes were taken by the other and woven into its own solemn pattern.”
The loud brash note of the capture of Merry and Pippin in fact only bore them to Fangorn where they tipped the scales of motivating the Ents. “The Ents are going to wake up, and find that they are strong.” - and today we invoke the “Comfortor” - which word in its oldest sense means “strengthener.”
That first Whitsun was a turning of the tide for the disciples, when they woke up, and found that they were strong - and the good news went out then to spread over the entire world.
This Whitsuntide, may we also allow ourselves to be comforted - to find out we are strong, and through off the tide of evil that may be attempting to assail us and ours. Whatever that evil may yet attempt, may it find that “this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which [it] hath not imagined.”

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The subordination of Omnipotence

It has been one of those weeks were a number of disparate references touching upon similar themes have presented themselves to me in passing, and so it would seem to be my obligation to Providence to offer some comment on them.

Last week (or the week before?) I read a blog post advocating ‘communion on the tongue’ as opposed to ‘communion in the hand.’  Now, it is known that communion in the hand was at least practiced, if not the norm, in the early church; but communion on the tongue came to be the norm at least by the middle ages. I myself prefer on the tongue, primarily because to me it presents a weird and incongruous symbol to have the priest be careful of crumbs, and wash his hands after handling the bread - but to deny laity the same opportunity.  This blog post I read, however, went much further, advocating forbidding communion in the hand (and, furthermore, forbidding communion to those who hadn’t previously proved themselves to the priest) in an effort to prevent Sacrilege.  According to this individual, consecrated hosts are routinely sneaked out of Roman parishes in order to be used in black magic or desecrated by atheist college professors.

About the same time, I’d been reading “Many Dimensions” by Charles Williams.  The premise of the book is that the crown of King Solomon was purchased by an evil British scientist, and he was experimenting with the Stone it contained, in an effort to profit from it.  Although he never explicitly connects the Stone of Solomon to the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, he does describe it metaphysically in ways that imply that it is a manifestation of The Word.  One property of the Stone is that it can be divided without being diminished (like the Bread of Life!)  The main character ended up with one of the “types” of the stone, and was one of the few people not trying to use it.  One night someone broke into her house to steal it, and she was torn whether or not to finally “use” the stone.
“She was protecting it. Not being a reader of religious history Chloe was ignorant what things have been done in the strength of that plea, or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence. But in her despair she rejected what churches and kings and prelates have not rejected; she refused to be deceived, she refused to attempt to be helpful to the God...”
With what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence!
God made flesh, and eternally present in the Bread in wine - Ever broken but never divided - does not need our help!  This is not to say we should be casual with consecrated bread - but the reason is for our sakes, not his.  Just like a grudge or hate, sacrilege does not harm its object in anyway: it only harms the subject - or rather, gives exposure to the sickness already present.  Once upon a time, the Book of Common Prayer required the reading of certain Exhortations with greater or lesser frequency warning people to examine their motives - not to protect God, but to protect themselves from spiritual damage.

Today, many in the United States are looking to a couple courts for a ruling on same-sex marriage.  Those opposed, it seems to me, are also concerned about protecting the subordination of Omnipotence.
There's much talk about the “institution” of marriage, and it’s sacred nature.  It seems to me that marriage has moved in and out of institution during the past 3 thousand years depending on the priorities of various societies.  It certainly wasn’t an institution in the early middle ages, perhaps a ‘custom’ would be more accurate.
Jesus doesn’t seem to be ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ marriage, it’s simply a thing that exists. He goes to wedding feasts, but points out that in the Life of the World to Come, we are neither married nor given in marriage.  Paul the Apostle has no problem with marriage, but doesn’t encourage it: it’s just one more part of this passing world.
There is one Marriage in the new testament that is Instituted and Sacred beyond all doubt: and that Marriage is between the Lamb that was Slain, and his Bride, the New Hierusalem.  In my daily lectionary right now, I’m coming up toward the end of John. Just yesterday, during his farewell discourse, Jesus described Love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  God laid down his life for his bride, for us.  “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”

This is The Marriage. This lasts beyond death, world without end. And nothing humans can do can touch this.

But what we can do, is participate in it. We can be about our father’s business by loving as he loved us.  For many, this is best rehearsed, as in a laboratory, with one other person, so that those two in turn can better take and share that love to all they come in contact with.  That particular agreement to be safe, to trust, to not give up - just as God does not give up on his people, no matter how they stray.  This love is what we are called to as Christians.  Earthly marriage is a means to facilitate that, but it is no end in itself.  Married or unmarried, Christians are called out of themselves, to give themselves fully to others, and in doing so both to open themselves to God’s love, and thereby draw water from that well which never runs dry and which makes glad the city of God.  Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista salvi facti sunt!

But - that the civil order should facilitate this purpose is challenged by some right now.  To quote an early 20th C. liturgical book I was reading, “These modern Manichees, consisting as they do partly of fanatics, and partly of remorseful sinners who, having for a long time failed to govern themselves and keep within the bounds of decency and reason, are now determined to govern the rest of mankind which never had any inclination to transgress.”  Those who would assert that they are for “Family values” or ”tradition” seem frequently to oppose the very Life in Christ that I have above described.  They do not lay down their lives for their children or parents - those ‘natural affections’ that arise from blood - but instead kick out the children who are gay, and send mom and dad to ‘the home.’  They don’t lay down their lives for ‘the least of these’, but rather assert that those are getting what they deserve.  Again turning to Charles Williams, this time in “Descent into Hell”:
“... don’t you know how quiet the streets of Gomorrah are? haven’t you seen the pools that everlastingly reflect the faces of those who walk with their own phantasms, but the phantasms aren’t reflected, and can’t be.  The lovers of Gomorrah are quite contented, Periel; they don’t have to put up with our difficulties.  They aren’t bothered by alteration, at least till the rain of the fire of the Glory at the end, for they lose the capacity for change, except for the fear of hell.  They’re monogamous enough! and they’ve no children- no cherubim breaking into being or babies as tiresome as ours; there’s no birth there, and only the second death.  There’s no distinction between lover and beloved; they beget themselves on their adoration of themselves, and they live and feed and starve on themselves, and by themselves too, for creation, as my predecessor said, is the mercy of God, and they won’t have the facts of creation... When all’s said and done, there’s only Zion or Gomorrah.”
In a great irony, when searching for this quote, I turned up several “fundamentalists” blogs or posts using this as if he were talking about gay people!  But it is exactly that they have turned within, and do not wish to be confronted with the “other” that is in fact God, and to have to exist in relationship and communion with them that makes them the subject of this description, and not the gays.  Those of us for marriage equality are precisely trying to counter this: We attempt (haltingly, but by God’s grace better every day!) to Love one another as Christ loved us, to see in other faces God’s own; to lay down our lives to create a safe place for another to in turn find that they are loved of God so that they too may love.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Rejoice ye in Hierusalem; and be glad for her, all ye that delight in her.
Galatians iv.
St. John vj.

Here we are, in the midst of Lent.  Six weeks ago, we buried “The Lord’s Song” (Ps. 137) and entered the exile of Babylon.  On Ash Wednesday, the English church remembers the expulsion of our first parents from Eden.  But while this is often and rightly understood to be a time to mourn our sins which brought us to this place, and to do penance, it is also a time to reflect without distraction about where we have come from, and where we are going.  We fast not to deprive ourselves of what we need, but of what we don’t need, adopting once more the diet of Eden.  As we’ve been singing at Mattins the past week,
“2. Thus Moses dear to God became, / And fitly did the law proclaim:
Thus heav’nward was Elias raised,  / On steeds of fire, and wheels that blazed.

3. Thus Daniel mysteries beheld,  / And rage of fiercest lions quell’d:
Thus, as the Bridegroom’s friend, alone / Is John in holy lore made known. ”

And now we aim for a return.  A return to Eden, to the Promised Land, to Hierusalem.  But what is the nature of our return? Is it back to the status quo, back to how things were?  Or is it “back” to how things should be?

And so Paul asks us, do we wish to be children of the Hierusalem “which is above” or of the earthly Hierusalem? What is the difference between them?

I think that the difference is primarily one of disposition.  The verse of the Office was from Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me * We will go into the house of the Lord.”  To “Go into the house of the Lord” has been interpreted by our forebears as meaning to be in that place called in “folk psychology” “right-brained”:  Being in the present, and apprehending intuitively the “deeper” or “bigger” picture.  The child of the Heavenly Hierusalem, we read, is born “after the Spirit:”  just as we discussed last night in regards to chanting the psalms and using the spirit, or breath, to help bring ourselves into the House of the Lord, the better to hear his scriptures.

So how does the gospel today exemplify this heavenly Hierusalem? At first glance, it seems unrelated: it takes place “over the sea of Galilee.”  But I think that it is showing us an example of the disciples themselves being divided between the Heavenly and Earthly Hierusalems.  They, like us, “in the midst of life are in death” as we sang at Compline.  They are in the exile of the earthly, seeking the heavenly.
The people hunger, and the disciples note that they have no bread.  They are like baren Sarah, who didn’t yet believe the promise; but they, like Sarah, in spite of their doubt, do what they are told.  Jesus took the bread that was procured, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples.  So far, nothing remarkable.  The disciples distributed it to the people.  Also, unremarkable: but wait! The people were filled, and twelve baskets remained! At what point did this happen?  This is a foretaste of the Hierusalem above.  Rejoice ye in Hierusalem; and be glad for her, all ye that delight in her.

This is the economy of the Hierusalem which is above: an economy of abundance.  Unlike the earthly Hierusalem where we live our day-to-day lives, it is through giving up, sacrifice, and yielding that enough, and more! is found.  But, through grasping and hording, one looses even what was has.  This is emphasized again and again in scriptures... Cast your bread upon the water.  Ho, ever one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat - yea, come, buy wine without money and without price.  We read last night that Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to by grain, and came home with grain - and with their money also!  This is the way that the children of freedom, the children of the promise, the children of heaven live.
And so, during Lent, we practice this heavenly way.  A diet of less - that is more than enough.  We give alms not to punish ourselves but because God freely gives, and in giving we open ourselves to his gift.  And we can take comfort in knowing that, like the disciples, we don’t have to understand, and we can be full of doubt. But if we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, if we take the bread he gives us and distribute, we will find that all have been filled, and more.