Tag Archives: Heaven

Eyelids

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Ford Madox Brown, Parisina’s SleepStudy of a Head for Parisina’s Sleep (Public Domain)

 

Will our eyes grow weary,
Of staring at your glory?
I think not, but if I did,
I’d wonder on the humble lid.
When you rose and played the host,
Your friends saw you and not a ghost.
They did not cry, and run or hide,
In fear of man with no lid of eye.
In this dream I find some comfort,
That in our mansions we may slumber.
For it is fine to feast, and play and pray,
But I think I’d miss the end of day,
To feel some weakness in my bones,
And sigh, and stretch and head for home.
I would climb up to my royal room,
Where awaits our friend the groom,
Who speaks the name that no one knows,
The stone a rose our hearts disclose,
And drift away as eyelids close,
To blessed darkness, sweet repose.

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The Half-Life of Sin

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Radioactive Man and his origins, from The Simpsons

This post is for someone who is trying to wrap their head around concepts like the Fall of Man, Original Sin, or “What’s Wrong with the World?, or in other words, the poorly catechized young person I used to be and am still striving to overcome. If you are bored by or struggling with traditional methods of explanation, this alternative approach may be helpful. As Catholic writer Fabrice Hadjadj said in his recent book, it may be ok to be whimsical so long as we are not frivolous. Times have changed, and new methods are required.

In writing about our origin story, the Englishman G.K. Chesterton famously described humanity as “the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.”  Like Robinson Crusoe, humanity looks around on the shore for the flotsam and jetsam of truth, beauty and goodness.

For purposes of this post, I am going to expand on Chesterton’s line of thought and ask you to visualize the shipwreck as being caused by a bomb, a spiritual atomic bomb of disobedience to God that is called “original sin.” The explosion and shockwave of our disobedience has made creation groan, and the harmful radiation of sin has mutated us. We are all eX-men (different than what God made) in a sense, and endowed with strange, new superpowers.

 

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“And then their eyes were opened …” Genesis 3:7.

 

The mutation has estranged us from the natural world. Animals shy away from us, we are plagued by disease and natural disasters. Why? It was too dangerous to leave the natural world subject to our full control since we went over to the dark side.  All our material security or progress would come through toil, by the “sweat of our brow.” If we had been left with the power of naming, or full dominion, like Adam, we would have destroyed the natural world long ago.

In some mysterious way, the effects do extend down to the physical level, and is thus passed from parents to their children. Ours is an embodied faith.

But hey, you might ask, continuing with the superhero theme, what about the compensations, all the cool gear and powers?  And you would be right to ask about this, as our new state comes with a utility belt of sort. For starters you do get a mask and costume of pride, which prevents you and others from knowing your true self. Are you truly transparent at all times to God and others? No, we all know that much is hidden inside and rarely shared.

Some tools are neutral: We do have our intellect, and the freedom to use it as we wish.

And then there are the powers, quite a few actually. The most dangerous superpower may be the ability to lie. Through lying you can create a dream world for yourself and others, where right is wrong and bad is good.  Or where there is no Truth at all. I am not responsible for my actions.

Some forms of lying are merely the result of poor reasoning, which we call fallacies, or take the form of mental disorders.

To take one example, psychological projection: Why is the Church so obsessed with sexual ethics? The world wonders in frustration. Many ask this.

Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the priest molesting the altar boy

Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the teacher sexting her student

Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the adulterer who gives an STD to his spouse and abandons his children

Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the physician who performed a few thousand abortions last year

Or the pimp who trafficked a minor, or the man viewing child pornography while his family sleeps, etc., etc.

But is it the Church that’s obsessed with sex, or us mutants? Well, perhaps the Church is obsessed to the same extent that a doctor is obsessed with preventing and curing disease, or a parent is obsessed with making sure their child is properly fed and clothed.

But is that obsession? Or is it Charity? Our power to lie creates a dream world where Charity has been slandered as Obsession. We should acknowledge that Our God is a jealous God, so it may be right to say that He is obsessively Charitable.

So these radioactive superpowers, as enticing as they are, come with a price: death. When talking about elements,  the term “half-life” is a term used to describe the amount of  time it will take for half the atoms in a given element to decay. It is important to know the half-life of substances that emit harmful, ionizing radiation, like plutonium.

I find the term useful in thinking about sin and our life span. For example, what is the half-life for the original sin you carry? Half your life. Even though you have been redeemed, and can be forgiven your sins, you will not be completely free of the effects of sin until your life ends. Your body is going to die because of that heavy plutonium apple our ancestors bit into a long time ago.

But for your soul, its a bit more complicated. Because of original sin you do not have “life to the fullest.” Rather you have a half-life from being stuck in the dream world of sin.

You can choose to march in place your whole life, and die just as poisoned as when you were young. Or you can sample a variety of uranium, polonium or other poisonous fruits and become even more radioactively sinful on the inside as you age.

Or you can accelerate the process of decay of sin. How? Its a simple formula, He must increase, I Must Decrease. The more you walk in the Lord’s path, the lighter the burden of original sin becomes. Prayer, fasting, receiving the Sacraments and various forms of self-denial all help. The more you cooperate, the more is given to you.

And to cooperate, you need to take off that mask and costume of pride and lower your defenses. For a Catholic, this unburdening means regular confession.

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It doesn’t work with the mask on

From long personal experience, I can tell you that you can pray and go to Mass all you want, but you won’t begin the process of healing until you avail yourself of this sacrament. In going to Confession, you get to step out of your Darth Vader outfit for a while, and breathe the pure air of truth from a personal encounter with the Lord. It works, and long ingrained habits of sin can begin to be broken.

To close the post on a fitting note, I will return to Chesterton. There is a story (it has never been definitely confirmed) that an English newspaper of his day had asked a group of authors for essays about “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton allegedly sent back a famous two-word response:

“I am.”

This may seem harsh, but things are much easier when we can acknowledge we are part of the problem. One is less inclined to judge (people that is, not actions) and more likely to forgive. You won’t give your heart to some ideology or party, which is merely the sum aspirations of a group of people no better than yourself. You won’t pin your hopes on some worldly utopia, for how could a mass of men under sin ever build such a thing?  Or even stake your soul on democracy and majority rule. Jesus may have been the Elect One, but he did not fare so well in elections. The only time he appeared on the ballot, he lost in a landslide to another, one with a pretty poor resume.

So in the end, you die, and in death God performs life saving surgery on you. The mask of pride falls away, and the real adventure begin. Because, as  Georges Bernanos wrote, sin has forced you to live on your surface all your life.  And as you dive into the limpid, pure water of your soul you discover the hidden depths you never knew existed:

We observe how much that is foreign falls away from us and how what belongs to us is set free. What we are being led into is again, not something foreign, but in the highest sense natural, although one cannot say we had expected it to be this way rather than some other way. When it arrives, it is simply the right thing, that which is far and away the best.

Whoever arrives in heaven has to introduce himself. This introduction, however, is not one-sided; those who introduce themselves are at the same times the ones introduced. God has been waiting for us, just as we waited for him. And now that we are those who have been received, there is no longer any talk of sin and unworthiness. Confession lies behind us. Now there is only the augmentation of grace…

The Book of All Saints

 

 

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Things Adults Say On Entering Heaven

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“Uh, where do I put all my stuff?”

“What time is it? I don’t see a clock anywhere.”

“I don’t have to talk to those people, right?”

“Is my brother around? He owes me some money.”

“I have some ideas for improving the place I’d like to share with you.”

“My wife’s not here, right? Just tell me she’s not here…”

“When is the next election?”

“I think I forgot my wedding ring, can I go back and get it?

“Hey, hey, stay in line!”

“Do you have wifi?”

“I have a very important appointment, and am running late. Can’t this wait?”

“Who died and made you boss?”

 

Children on the other hand, well words cannot describe.

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A Quiver Full of Glory

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St. Therese as Joan of Arc

Three sisters stand around a table.

It is quiet but for the the tap tap tapping

shoe of the little one.

Three glasses in a line across the table. A very large one in the middle.

A smaller one to the right, and a child’s one to the left.

The eldest pours water into each.

“You see, each is full of glory.”

The three little sisters grow up to be Sisters

who do not wear shoes.

In time the youngest becomes the greatest. She stayed little.

She says: “When I die, I will work even harder. I will rain down a shower of roses from heaven.”

And she dies. Everyone looks up.

 

It is now my time to die.

The old rose-bush is cut down by the gardener.

The withered branches, leaves and flowers go into the bonfire.

The thorns crackle as they burn.

One rose remains.

I am planted in the garden of Our Lady, one of many.

Red rose martyrs, innocent whites, mystics in blue.

A flower is small, quiet and still. Obedient.

A flower knows how to listen,

and accepts the light and water without complaint. It grows.

It is a place of rest.

In the cool of the day the Child Jesus plays in the garden.

Sometimes he plucks me with some others, and makes a crown for his Mother.

On some days a bouquet. When they are done playing he puts me back in the soil.

A flower does not protest.

One day the Child Jesus brings a friend to the garden, a young lady in armor.

“Gather your arrows” he says,

And presents her with a bow and quiver.

“Am I to be your Cupid?” she asks.

“No, my Eros.”

For the Greeks were nearer to his Heart than the Romans.

(He had longed to sail for Greece.

“Come over here and help us,” said the man in the dream.

Another would make the journey.)

And so the Little One gathers the roses into her quiver.

We are a little Communion of Saints. We are sharp,

though we have lost our thorns.

He points, and she draws me from the quiver.

She listens with the ear of her heart for the prayer. Loose!

A rainbow parabola,

The arc of history bends from Heaven to Earth.

That flutter in your heart is me striking home.

And when you pray, or hope, or love, you send me

winging skyward.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence.

 

For the Little Therese, and with apologies to 

Charles Peguy.

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For the Blue Lady on her Feast Day

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When you gaze long into Heaven,

Heaven gazes long into you.

For the one who contemplates

Is Contemplated by the One.

And when you go fishing,

It may be you that is caught

Do you remember it, my love?

That day You put the fish hook through my soul?

It did not hurt, that gentle but relentless tug.

Pulling me up into the boat.

The screen before me like a fisherman’s net,

Sifting me and leaving my sins behind.

I pass through and am even more now,

Though I have left much less than nothing behind.

It was the tears that drew You to me I know now.

Never are we more becoming than when we cry,

This life giving spring of water You gave us.

So if you find yourself wrestling with an angel…

Stop.

For if you don’t,

You may find yourself in the belly of a whale, (or is it a well?)

Calling on the Blue Lady to help you.

But its You there in the hot sun, with Your back against it.

Will no one give You a drink?

You remember the day She got your proposal,

As She was walking to the well.

But another woman is coming to fetch water now.

She has had many lovers, none of them You.

But You see Your Mother in her,

And somehow She sees You in us.

And You both grasp the rope,

Pulling us up, up, up to You and Her

in Heaven.

 

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Witness for the Prosecution

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From Inherit the Wind

 

One of the more interesting things to observe on social media, often not in a good way, is the interaction between believers, atheists and agnostics. There is certainly tension present. Some atheists and agnostics show great frustration with Followers of the Way*, and they do have good cause to be disappointed.

Georges Bernanos captured this dynamic very well in his essay, The Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Therese.  In this essay, written in 1938, Bernanos conveys the point of view of an imaginary agnostic who has been given the opportunity to deliver a sermon to a parish of self-satisfied and mediocre Catholics. Bernanos was a Catholic novelist and essayist, and it was considered a sign of his great integrity that he was far harder on the Church and his fellow Catholics than on anyone else.

From the outset, his narrator pulls no punches:

“Ladies and Gentlemen”, he would begin, “I don’t share your beliefs, but I probably know more about the history of the Church than you do, because I happen to have read it, and not many parishioners can say that.”

“… Who among you is capable of writing twenty lines about his or her patron saint?”

Lesson one, don’t BS or condescend to an atheist or agnostic. They have probably come by their position the hard way, either through formal education or long life experience.  Their common sense may exceed yours, and they may very well know philosophy, theology, the history of the Church or the Bible better than you.

Despite this, some will make time for us, even when we ignore them:

For though you’re not interested in unbelievers, unbelievers are extremely interested in you. There are a few of us who at some point in our lives have not made a tentative approach in your direction, were it only to insult you. After all, put yourselves in our place. Were there  … the faintest chance of your being right, death would come as a devastating surprise to us. So we’re bound to watch closely and try and fathom you.

Lesson two, you will have some opportunity to demonstrate or discuss your faith with them, whether you intend to or not. Be ready.

But we are often not:

“Yes, we were drawn to you. But now we’ve decided that you’re not very interesting after all, and it’s rather disappointing. And we hate to think what fools we were, ever to have hoped in you, and to have doubted ourselves, our own unbelief.”

Lesson three, we may be accountable to some degree for their lack of faith. Jesus says woe unto those who are a stumbling block to children. But is he just speaking of physiological age? What if its spiritual age as well? We will have to account for the atheists and agnostics we disappointed by our bad example.

For example, do we take the Sacraments seriously? Bernanos’ agnostic suggests we often don’t:

When you come out of the confessional, you’re in a ‘state of grace.’ A state of grace … are you sure? Can you blame us if we don’t believe it? We’re wondering what you do with the Grace of God. Should it not be shining out of you? Where the devil do you hide your joy?

Lesson four, as Teresa of Avila said, “Lord, save us from gloomy saints.” Behave like your faith matters more than the world

Instead, we seem to put too much faith in politics or money, not God:

But what surpasses the understanding is that you habitually reason about the affairs of the world in exactly the same way as we do. I mean, who’s forcing you? … But when your fathers profess the pitiless economics of Mr. Adam Smith, or when you give solemn honor to Machiavelli, allow me to say that you cause us no surprise – you simply strike us as odd, incomprehensible fellows.

Lesson five: If you make an idol out of your politics, possessions, or career, why should atheists take you seriously about the Good News?

Despite any frustration we have with atheists or agnostics, we must never judge them for their profession of faith. A scientist once calculated that about 150 billion humans beings have been born on planet Earth since homo sapiens came into existence (I have no issue with the concept of the evolution of human beings over many thousands of years, in a manner consistent with the will of the Father. Nor does the RC Church). Billions lived and died before the Incarnation, never knowing the Good News. Billions have lived and died since without being baptized or even being preached to.

For whatever reason, one of the mysteries of Salvation history is that only a vanishingly small number of human beings encountered Jesus in person, and a minority, even through today, have ever been formally inducted into the faith through baptism. Most of the people who have been born went to their deaths knowing nothing of the Sermon on the Mount, the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. Most people did not believe Jesus during his day, so perhaps it is appropriate that most of humanity not believe his followers.

Peter Kreeft has suggested that one of the purposes of the Communion of Saints is for those of us who are wealthy in life to share with those who were not in the next. When you lay up treasures in heaven, it may be for those who were never graced with any spiritual treasure in this life.

Does Bernanos’ narrator offer any advice for today’s Christians? His narrator prophesies our present,  and says we must become children again:

Fear those who are to come, who shall judge you. Fear the innocence of children, for they are also enfants terribles. Your only way out is to become children yourselves, to rediscover the heart of childhood. For the hour shall strike when questions hurled at you from all points of the earth shall be so direct, that you will not be able to answer except by yes or no.

Lesson six, social media places our Faith under the microscope like never before. And we will be questioned by the orphaned children of our age, who will not defer to us or accept the things we take for granted. They find much of the world rather absurd, and laugh at it. And Bernanos advises that we will never respond adequately to their laughter except through the childlike heroism of a Joan of Arc before her accusers.

Christians who listen to me – that is your peril! It is difficult to follow up a society that has foundered in laughter, because even the fragments will be useless. You will have to build it all up again. You will have to build it up under the eyes of children. Become as children yourselves. They have found the chink in your armor, and you will never disarm their irony save by simplicity, honesty and audacity.

You will never disarm them save by heroism.

Lesson 7, argument is of limited value. Apologetics has its place with those who are eager to believe, and need guidance or encouragement. Our Lord had little success with argument with those disinclined to believe him. Do we expect to do any better than Him? While we have a duty to be honest when the question is put to us, we will best persuade through our heroic example, which may include prayer and fasting, and all the ordinary or anonymous sacrifices we are called to make every day.

When I die, I want Jesus to call some of these formerly hard nosed atheists from the far reaches of eternity (Heaven) or temporality (Purgatory). They can be His prosecuting attorney against me in my final confession. Did I ever impress or convert a one by my example, or my prayers? Up to this point in my life, I cannot say with any confidence that I have. I would have to plead guilty to every charge they might make, a witness for the prosecution.

 

P.S. If you wish to read more Bernanos, many of his writings have been translated into English. Unfortunately, much of it is out of print and hard to come by at a reasonable price. The essay I have quoted from is available in The Heroic Face of Innocence: Three Stories by George Bernanos at a reasonable price in e-book form.

* As Christians were apparently known in their early years. The French writer Fabrice Hadjadj has suggested, half-seriously, that Christians go back to using that description, as it sounds far more mysterious and intriguing.

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Coming Attractions

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I missed my flight, and it was my fault.  I am not going to tell you where I was coming from, because I don’t want you trying to find where I wound up. I could tell you not to try, but I know you would not listen. A year from now I’d read about some American tourists  (I’m staring at you) who got in trouble looking for Shang Ri La, like in that sorry De Caprio movie.

Well, back to the story, The lovely young lady at the ticket desk explained in passable English that they could get me home to America, but that I would have to take a round about way to get there, with several intermediate stops in small, unfamiliar (to me that is) airports. I agreed and boarded the plane, and gingerly negotiated the stairs to the cabin after having made friends with the little bar in the passenger lounge.

The first leg of the flight was long and boring, and the stewardess introduced me to a few more friends from her food and beverage cart. We had to stay on the plane at the first stop, as a few souls got on and off. I was in a solitary seat by a window, and was in solitary confinement for all intents and purposes, not knowing the languages of any of my fellow passengers. I made a few more friends on the second leg, and realized I was dozing off as we began our descent into the next step. Well, they’ll wake me if they need to, I thought.

But they didn’t. I woke to humming sound, one that seemed to be approaching me. When I opened my eyes I saw a man in a blue work uniform running a vacuum. He turned it off when he saw me looking at him. I asked him where everyone was, but he did not speak English, and pointed to the jet way. I was not feeling that well, and a little panicked that I might have missed a change in my connection. I squeezed by him, patting my pockets as I went to make sure I did not leave behind my phone, tickets or wallet.

When I got into the terminal, I went straight to the ticket desk.  My sole piece of luggage was right next to it. The kind young man explained in fluent English that there was a mechanical problem with the flight, and that it would not leave till tomorrow morning. The small city had several nearby hotels, and the other passengers had already dispersed to them. He gave me directions and wished me a good night.

The hotel was a few blocks away, and I decided to walk. The little city was exceptionally picturesque, but I can’t really describe it to you, and I never thought to snap any pictures. I was still a little boozy, and not sure I followed the directions correctly. I arrived at the hotel,  or at least, a hotel. A beautiful young woman at the desk checked me in, but told me it would be a few hours before my room was ready. She suggested a few restaurants and cultural sights to keep me busy. I thanked her and walked back out into a sunny, blue sky afternoon.

On my way to a restaurant I came across a grand looking museum, a combination of Beaux Arts and some other style I could not place. It was open, and I ducked in, not quite catching the name on the door. I realized it was an art museum once I stepped into the grand foyer. A tour group of elderly people was gathered around a guide, and I learned that they were just about to enter an exhibit. Miracle of miracles, it was a group of American and English tourists, and I decided to stow away with the group. I grabbed a program and held it in from of my face, trying to blend in as best I could near the back. The sign over the exhibit entrance said: The Fullness of Time.

We made our way into the first gallery, and the guide described the very large painting on the main wall:

“This is The Repentance of Judas, which was jointly painted by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci during their early, collaborative period.”

I did a double take.  While I was no art historian, I knew Michelangelo and Da Vinci hated each other, and could not imagine that they had ever worked together. Was this some kind of alternative art show?

“Michelangelo modeled himself for Judas, and Leonardo painted himself as Peter” the guide droned on. The painting was of the Last Supper, in particular the scene where Christ was washing feet of the Apostles. Jesus was as stripped to the waist, and kneeling on the floor. Judas was on the floor too, crouched down, and his arms about Jesus’ waist. His faced was buried in Jesus’ abdomen, and you could only see the back of the head.

“The bowl of water has been tipped over, and has soaked Judas’ robe, perhaps suggesting a second baptism,” the guide continued. The expression on Jesus face was ineffable joy.

After a few minutes, the guide led us over to the next painting on the opposite wall.

“Here we have The Prayer in the Garden. This was painted by Donatello. It shows the Lord,  Peter, James and John seated in a square, each holding the hand of the person  on each side of them,” the guide stated.   The four men looked completely at peace, and there was a faint smile about Jesus’ mouth.

It got stranger after that. The next one was called The Honor Guard, by Titian, and showed a group of Roman soldiers and Temple guards escorting Jesus and the Apostles from the Garden of Gethsemane. I looked about, waiting for someone to laugh, ask a question or object. Were they just too polite?

The group moved on from room to room. I’ll only describe two more of the sequence of paintings. The most memorable the guide called, The Coronation in the Temple. It depicts Jesus in Herod’s Temple, standing outside the Holy of Holies. The Temple Veil billows out around him, as if a strong wind from within the Holy of Holies has issued from it. The High Priest and the Sanhedrin kneel before him.

The last was the The Two Crowns, allegedly by Rembrandt. It showed Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas, at the Antonia Fortress, kneeling before Jesus. Their laurel and gold crowns are at his feet. Roman soldiers salute Christ with raised palm leaves.

I could take no more of this, and raised my hand.

“Yes?” the guide asked.

“All right, I was a late addition to the tour, but what exactly is going on here.  None of these events actually happened in the Bible. And Michelangelo and Da Vinci certainly never painted a picture together.   I’m no stranger to experimental art, but you cannot completely make things up. These other tourists may not get whatever joke you are playing here.”

“They are not tourists. This is their new home. But I think you may be a tourist. And perhaps with the wrong tour at that.” He walked towards me.

“What?”

He stood before me, and looked into my eyes.

“You have been misplaced, haven’t you?” He looked over my shoulder, as if summoning someone.

“Just where am I then?” I asked.

The guide smiled, talking slowly and clearly, as if I was a child, “You are where the fullness of time meets all things new. But it is not your time yet. See you later,” he said, tilting his head ever so slightly, and I fell asleep.

When I woke, I was back on the plane, descending for my final connection before home. Everyone about me acted as if things were normal, and no one mentioned an extended layover at the last stop. I even asked the stewardess about the mechanical failure, but she did not understand me.

As we landed and taxied, I talked myself into accepting that I had experienced a bizarre dream.  As I rose from my seat to deplane, I went through my ritual of patting my pockets, making sure I had lost nothing. I felt something in my shirt pocket I did not recognize, and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a museum ticket, a little rectangle of heavy, pure white, paper, on which was written, “The Fullness of Time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Nights of Man

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At the time that had been allowed to them, a council of the great and wise gathered, arriving from far and wide on their black chargers. They ascended the ancient tower that had been built over the centuries by those who they neither honored nor remembered. Seven men in ash grey robes sat at a table and looked out over the world, contemplating their power and its limits. After an indeterminate period, one spoke.

“Are we not like gods?” the mightiest asked.

“We are,” the others replied.

“Then let us make our own creation,” he said.

“But what of the original? We are a fly in amber,” the least of them asked.

“We must destroy the old to create the new,” the leader mused. “We will work backwards.”

“And we will work at night by our own light.”

They chanted:

By our own light,

We work at night.

 

The First Night

During the first night, that very night, they delivered a dream to man.

You are free. You do not need to remember the Sabbath or keep it holy. Do as you will.

And the people accepted the dream, and did not remember the Sabbath. They worked hard, and built much.

But they had no rest.

The people cried out in their sleep from weariness, and they seven took up a soothing chant to keep them asleep.

By our own light,

We work at night.

And you will have no rest.

 

The Second Night

On the second night the great ones enjoyed a feeling of satisfaction as they admired what had been built.

What now?, they asked the strongest.

He spoke: “Woman, the pinnacle of creation. Let us remake her in man’s image. Her desire will be as ours and we will have harmony.”

“Agreed, let us remake her in man’s image,” they replied.

And so they put Woman into a deep sleep during the second night.

They knelt and crouched around her. The leader opened her side, and pulled piece after piece from her, all her differences, and laid them on the ground.

Where is the rib?” the others asked, looking down at the bloody mess.

“I cannot find it. But she has been changed,” the leader replied.

They closed her up and woke her.

“Sister! You are like us now. Come away from your hearth and the well. Join us in our councils.”

And the woman joined them, donning a grey robe.

But they had no help. Because no water was drawn, they had no wine. The weakest of them took ill and died from thirst in the night.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” the Woman asked, looking down at him. “You are not,” they replied.

They took his body and threw it down from the tower, and the dogs feasted on his flesh.

The people cried out in the dream from their thirst and cold.

The council began a new chant:

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

 

The Third Night

Before the third night, they convened again. Their leader spoke, “Man holds himself above all other living things of the world. Let us heal this wound by abolishing this division. Let man know that he is just another animal.”

And so they sent a dream to man, that he was just another animal. And the people believed and began to take on the form of beasts like pigs, hyenas and wolves, and even more fantastic creatures such as satyrs, nymphs, and trolls.

Many moaned in fear in their dreams, but the council spoke soothingly to them, reminding them that they were just animals, and to do what felt natural. And so they did, and beasts walked the earth on two legs and preyed on each other to satisfy their appetites. But they had no joy, and the dreaming people cried in sadness.

A new chant came down from the tower.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

 

The Fourth Night

At the dusk of the fourth night, the leader looked up at the night sky from the top of the tower, taking in the setting sun, the rising moon and the emerging stars.

“Man looks up he sees a marvelous tapestry that he is a part of. This rootedness make him inflexible. We must teach him that this is an illusion, and that he must never ask why there is something instead of nothing. It just is.”

And so they sent man a dream that robbed him of the rhythm of time and a feeling of place in the universe. The sun, moon and stars were there by chance, and no hand held the tiller of the universe.

And they had no hope. The great ones chanted anew, almost cruelly that night.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

You will have no hope.

 

The Fifth Night

At the beginning of the fifth night, the council surveyed the lands that surrounded the tower. Over many years man had brought the land under this dominion, and made it fruitful.

The leader spoke: “Let us build a wall between man and the land. He ruins and degrades it. At the same time, its beauty distracts him from our designs. His  toil makes him hardy and contrary to our purpose.

And so they built a wall between the land and man in the dream. Man never lingered in the wild places and wondered at the whisper on the wind or the faces in the clouds. He never toiled to bring forth a harvest from the land, and forget how to gather in the harvest in his home.

And so he bore no fruit. And the people cried out in their dream as their lives became dull and empty.

The council chanted long that night until the people slept once more.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

You will have no hope.

You will bear no fruit.

 

The Sixth Night

The sixth night arrived, and the leader of the council was uneasy. He sensed the others chafed under his rule. But was he not a god, and the greatest among them? So secure in his power was he that he spoke the fatal words before they were even written on the wall.

“Why must the sky be above and the waters below? This hierarchy frustrates our plans and deprives man of his potential. Let us send man a dream to banish all law and distinction. When the last firmament has fallen we will build our new utopia.”

The rest of the council agreed, and they sent men a dream of chaos.

And they had no peace.

The people cried out in their sleep, and began to stir in fright.

The leader waited, but no chant began.

“Well, begin!” he commanded.

There is no order anymore brother, we do not take orders from you. We will make our own chant.”

“I am the greatest!” he roared.

No, you are alone,” they replied. They dragged him down and killed him with their own hands. Then they threw his bloody body from the tower into the rocks below.

The great ones offered no soothing chant that night. They could not agree on one, and squabbled among themselves, sometimes even coming to blows. The people grew restless in their sleep, and began to thrash about. A new chant came unbidden from their lips.

We have no rest

We have no help

We have no joy

We have no hope

We bear no fruit

We have no peace

Where is the light?

 

The Seventh Night

The last night had arrived. The moon rose, and the great ones howled at it. Clouds blocked the moon, and the remaining starlight marooned them in a grey and dreary nightscape.  One of them would stir from time to time as if to speak, but said nothing.

One, it was hard to tell them apart now, finally spoke with great effort: “Is it not better this way?  I can no longer see our brother’s blood on our robes. Nor can I see his body on the rocks below.”

Another said: “Without the light to see by, man will need us even more. How can one tell blood from water in the dark? The chant is all they will know.”

They agreed, and prepared a dream to banish the light forever. The began to work. It was hard, as their riot of thought struggled to form the new and final dream, but finally a terrible vortex began to swirl around them.

At that moment, a strong voice broke in, coming from everywhere it seemed. It spoke to the great ones and sleepers alike.

“These seven nights have all been a dream. It is not good, true or beautiful. Therefore it is not real. And it is time to wake, once and for all. LET THERE BE LIGHT!

The people woke from their dream and sang a very different song from the chant that had troubled their sleep. It cannot be truly conveyed in words, but and they best I can write is this:

By your holy light,

There is no more night.

We may rest from our labors

We have help for every need

We have joy overflowing

Our every hope is fulfilled

The fruit has ripened and the harvest has been gathered

We have peace forevermore 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

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The Arc of the Universe Bends Towards Christ

Arc Two

Lately I have taken more notice of the expression “the arc of history.” I had been half-aware of this saying or versions of it for some time, but only closely examined it in the last few days.

The quote we are familiar with is: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.” This particular form was coined by Martin Luther King in the context of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. Now it seems to have been borrowed for whatever the issue of the day is.

But I wonder, is this arc of justice supposed to be ascending or descending?

The original source for this expression was the 19th century American minister Theodore Parker.  The first recorded version follows:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

Parker was speaking of justice in terms of punishment or retribution, not reconciliation or goodness. The people who use this quote now think in terms of the correct end to a particular question or debate, or, more generally, the perfect “end state” of human society.

The popular use and application of this quote is incorrect. The arc of the moral universe, or better yet, of history, bends toward Christ.

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.

John 12:32

And it is a short arc, not long.  No farther than from John and Mary on Golgotha, the infant Church, to Christ up on the Cross.  Christ of course is justice, but even more so mercy. The perfect blend.

And what is man’s justice?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:21-35

I would prefer to be on the ascending arc toward the font of mercy. I do not want the justice of man that we seem to promise, with a hint of menace, to those we disagree with on the issue of the day. I hope no one using this expression would want justice if they truly knew what they were asking for.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Finding of the Lost Sleep

ocean swells

He walked down the path that led to the sea. Every few paces he plucked the bright white wool from the rosebushes that lined the way. Each piece went into the sack, which bulged with the blazing stuff. It had been a long day, and he was ready to sleep.

At last, the sea! Would every meeting be such a thrill? The red orb had slipped under, and twilight greeted him as he arrived at the shore. He saw the man in the distance beneath a large fig tree, poking at the embers of the fire before him. The pile of kindling, which had been burning all day, had been reduced to ashes and a few branches. The man beckoned, and he stepped lightly toward him.

As he approached, he tied the end of the sack closed, and knelt.

“Did you find them all?” the man asked softly.

“Every slain hour … “the walker replied.

“… minute and second. For my time is now your time,” the man finished.

Perspective shifted, and it was I that held out the sack turned pillow to him. “You never had a place to rest your head.”

The man looked at me and smiled. “I thank you.” He placed it behind his head and leaned back against the broad trunk of the tree, and then looked out over the waters.

“We will cross tomorrow. You may look upon the foundations 0f the sea and sky if you wish.” He turned to me, “Many are waiting for you on the far shore.”

I took a turn prodding the smoldering pile. “I think my fear is nearly gone.”

“But first you must rest.”

I leaned back against him, and looked out to follow his gaze. His hand rested on my shoulder, and I was jealous of my namesake no longer. The swells arrived in time to the rising and falling of his chest, and this was right, for was he not the heart of the world?

Drifting and drifting, my eyes closed at last, and at the end of the first day I slept. It would last as long as it needed to. By the morning the last of the kindling would be gone, and the wind would have carried the ashes away.

 

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