Saturday, September 28, 2013
Sweet Onion, Jamestown, NC
Origen of Alexandria was one of the early and greatest Christian theologians. He taught that Scripture must be understood in three senses: the literal/historical, the moral, and the allegorical. Allegory is a way of interpreting a story by “peeling back the onion” to focus on the hidden or symbolic meanings rather than the literal meaning.
Although allegory scholars generally agree that the Old Testament was not written allegorically, some scholars consider that the story of Jonah and the Whale represents Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a whale while Jesus was in the tomb for three days before he rose from the dead. In modern times, many people have suggested Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for the World Wars and the one ring was an allegory for the atomic bomb. While the author of a text may not consciously write with hidden meaning, his text may be interpreted in different ways by his readers.
In an era of mass illiteracy, many of the stories in Jesus’ time were passed along by oral tradition. His parables were relatively simple in structure and imagery with messages that were central to his mission. They remain very effective to this day as a testament to his understanding of human nature and learning. But all of these stories which comprised about one third of his recorded teachings were earthly stories with heavenly meanings. When we peel back the outer layer of these mortal events we find deeper spiritual meanings such as in the parables of the Good Samaritan (the meaning of love), the Lost Coin/Prodigal Son/Sheep (loss and redemption), the Unforgiving Servant (forgiveness), the Faithful Servant (growing the Kingdom of God), the Ten Virgins (being prepared for Jesus’ return), the Pearl (the great value of and need to secure the Kingdom of God), etc. And this onion isn’t so harsh that it brings tears to your eyes, but is most assuredly the sweetest variety known to mankind.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Divine Circle of Light, Jamestown, NC
It’s been said that God is not so much to be seen as to be felt. In a recent interview, Pope Francis stated that “Finding God in all things is not an ‘empirical eureka’. When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. The senses that find God are the ones St. Ignatius called spiritual senses. Ignatius asks us to open our spiritual sensitivity to encounter God beyond a purely empirical approach. A contemplative attitude is necessary: it is the feeling that you are moving along the good path of God and love of all things in God-this is the sign that you are on this right path”.
It’s not too hard to discern the Jesuit influence on this new pope. I too have felt the divine presence in the vocal breezes of Colorado’s Mesa Verde canyons and the solitude of my own backyard. Our biblical heart is characterized as one of our spiritual senses. Jesus illustrates this in the Beatitudes when he told the five thousand that the pure in heart were blessed, for “they will see God”. Hence, the expression that we can experience God with “the eyes of our heart”. And just as we need relationship with one another to be human, we need contact with God to be fully human.
Charles Wesley preached that our spiritual senses are the “inlets of spiritual knowledge”. Our intellectual senses such as rational and common sense can take us so far within the limits of the human mind and our emotional heart can extend our reach to the doorstep of faith. We may never fully know God, but we can know enough. One of humanity’s great thinkers, Blaise Pascal, observed that “We know truth not by reason only, but by the heart. The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know”. The ultimate paradox seems to be that we must seek God so that He will ultimately engage in divine self-disclosure, one human at a time.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Blood on the Street, Chicago, IL, Internet Domain
Dark Cityscape, Chicago, IL
“I believe” is generally the first words proclaiming a confession of faith using a concise statement of belief. Christians are intimately familiar with the Apostle’s creed. It’s been said that when we speak to God we are making statements on which we bet our lives. There are those who say they believe in nothing, which in itself is a belief. And there is the concept of right belief. If we are not guided by right belief where good things will follow, we can easily slip into the darkness and use our life blessings destructively.
I read a book in the late 1950’s while I was in High School titled Knock on any Door. It made a lasting impression to this day and I still recall the street creed of the disenfranchised and disillusioned young men that were the focus of the narrative. These young men lived in the poverty areas of a large city and joined gangs that fulfilled their need for family. But their clarion call was a belief that always ended badly. These young men were living a creed to “live fast, die young and have a good looking corpse”. That fatalistic outlook didn’t leave much room for the hope of a purposeful life. Unfortunately, it’s still very much alive and well today in locations such as Chicago’s south side where murders of young people are a weekly ritual. An estimated 70,000 gang members were reportedly involved in 80% of Chicago’s 500 murders in 2012.
The polar opposite of the street creed can be found in Christianity’s Apostles’ creed. It concisely offers belief in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus his only Son, savior of our souls, and the Holy Spirit, counselor and comforter. This belief statement guides purposeful lives by further professing a belief in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the hope of a life everlasting. And we are what we believe.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Ground Zero 9-11-2004, New York City, NY
Henri Nouwen writes in his book on Discernment that “Certain events—current events, historical events, critical incidents and life circumstances—serve as signposts...Frequently the news features people who declare that we are living in the end of times. Fear and worry can affect our interpretation of the events we see or hear about. I do believe that we are living in the end of times, but I take that to mean that we are living under God’s promise that ‘all things are being made new’. For me, living in the end of times does not mean that creation will soon come to an end, but it does mean that all the signs of the end that Jesus mentions are already with us: wars and revolutions, conflicts between nations, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and persecutions (Luke 21:9-12)…Thomas Merton identified the ‘signs of the times’ as kairos—a quality of time that is eternal, when time is full of meaning and events point to divine purpose…
When millions of people experience the same event or series of critical events in the world, these events become, according to Merton, occasions to discern the signs of the times.” Certainly one of the simple tests for these “occasions” would be to see if you can recall what you were doing during some significant occasion in your contemporary past. You can probably recall a handful of events that remain fixed in your mind. For this generation, the landmark events of September 11, 2001 will always be seared in our collective memory. As we pause to honor the memories of the nearly three thousand innocent souls lost on that day twelve years ago, we need to pause long enough to look backwards to discern how the seemingly unrelated events of our lives have brought us to where we are now. God has placed all human beings in a broken world with the free will to make choices. He doesn’t necessarily cause bad things to happen as much as he is with us to bring some good out of every occasion. This morning’s USA Today notes that forty percent of Americans surveyed said that the occasion of September 11 permanently changed the way they live today. The date is now a National Day of Service and Remembrance for all of us to channel our emotions into something positive and uplifting for both ourselves and others as we resolve to help create a better world.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke record that the sun stopped shining and a total darkness came over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour prior to Jesus’ death on the cross. Then he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was echoing the words of King David in Psalm 22 who was also experiencing a painful separation from God and was vainly appealing to God for acceptance. Those three hours of darkness were a period of great duress when the gravity of all the sins of the world were being taken upon God himself to atone for them as the final blood sacrifice for all mankind. There is no scientific explanation for such a phenomenon. Science records, for instance, that the longest duration eclipse of the sun is seven and one half minutes.
The Jewish clock begins at sunrise, so this darkness descended right in the middle of the day when the sun is at its brightest overhead. Total daylight hours are divided by twelve to arrive at each Sha’ah Zemanit or proportional hour. Those three hours of darkness had to be both physical and spiritual. They were symbolic of the separation of the Son from the light of the Father who had been together for all time. And of course, the Prince of Darkness has long been associated with world sin. If you’ve ever experienced total darkness, such as exploring an underground cave, it will definitely get your attention! All the people in the land surely must have known that something very extraordinary was happening. Revelation informs us that in the ultimate new heaven and new earth there will be no need for a sun or moon, as God’s eternal light will always be present. That infers that those who have not chosen to be with God will spend eternity away from the presence of God in a state of total darkness. No one would wish that fate on anyone if they had experienced such a painful separation for those three hours.
We all have the ability to be the carriers of the light of God’s grace to assure that others will not suffer this terrible fate.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Morning Sunshine, Jamestown, NC
There’s much darkness in the world today, as there has been for every past generation. That provides an opportunity for every generation to rise up to the challenge of spreading the light of God’s Son into even the darkest corners and pathways. As long as the light prevails, so will mankind.
Footnote: A milestone posting #400.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Winged Grace, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Nobody’s perfect and the cross shows us that we no longer need to turn guilt ("I MADE a mistake") into shame ("I AM a mistake.") as priceless grace from the divine presence is now available to all.
Yellow Butterfly, Wrightsville Beach, NC
White Feather, Wrightsville Beach, NC
A number of years ago our family happened to be at a Carolina beach over Easter weekend. We had attended a number of sunrise Easter services in Kansas and we were looking forward to experiencing a resurrection service next to the vast ocean waters with the waves breaking onto the shoreline. As the light brightened over the ocean’s horizon, we did indeed experience a very spiritual remembrance of the risen Christ’s victory over death and the promise and hope for all mankind. Waves have symbolized renewal and life giving water throughout time.
Since that time, we’ve all enjoyed a meditative walk on the Carolina beaches at sunrise on a number of escapes from the madding crowds. A stroll along the beach at sunrise can be a very personal and spiritual time as a new creation unfolds for yet another day on planet earth. We were fortunate to have another beach trip this past Labor Day week with myself and my grown daughter and son-in-law. My wife of forty years certainly was with us in spirit, as she lost her struggle with breast cancer five years ago. The three of us were at her bedside when she was welcomed into the presence of our Heavenly Father.
The gardens around our beach home for the week were alive with very vibrant yellow butterflies this year. They flitted and darted in the cool breezes off the ocean waters among the brightly blooming tropical flowers. We photographed the gardens and rose every morning before sunrise to greet the new day and photograph the colorful sunrise over the sandy beach. And every sunrise is as unique as a snowflake or the shells that are left on the shore by the receding nighttime tide waters. All four of us had walked together on this particular beach and it brought back those kind of good memories that sustain you after you lose a loved one. As I walked the beach one morning, I was struck by the anomaly of a pure white feather lying among one of the many shell beds left exposed that day. Native Americans believed that departed souls manifested in the form of beautiful butterflies and visited their relatives to assure them that all is well. Feathers, especially white ones, symbolize purity, peace and love. They represent a sacred universal symbol of flight within the spirit world and serve as messengers of the Great Spirit. The ancients believed that they also convey a message that all is well on the other side.
It’s very understandable that butterflies and white feathers have come to symbolize spirit messengers over the centuries. Whether or not they are personified messengers in this mortal life will remain a mystery. But I do know that they both represent a beautiful reminder of those we hold close in our hearts and their presence does rekindle warm memories. Memories of long walks on the beach as the waves relentlessly break onto the sandy shore and the colorful light of a new creation assure us that God is present and He has those who go before us in the loving palm of his hand.