Christmas Teaching, 2017

In the years from 2006, I made every effort to be down at the LA Cathedral for Christmas Midnight Mass and Easter morning services. Having given my heart to Jesus “for healing” back in 2002, on first encounter I was pretty direct upon approaching the crucifix set behind the altar. Looking into the serene visage, I gestured to the twisted limbs and observed, “It’s time to clean all of this up.”

My interaction with the brotherhood has been complex, and sometimes contentious. So when I moved another twenty miles up the freeway into Ventura, it was with some relief that I decided to spend Christmas down at the local parish, rather than making the trip to Los Angeles.

Though my mother asked pointedly whether I intended to go.

I also passed on Easter.

For some reason, I feel a greater receptivity now. I’ve had a number of dreams about Christmas Eve down at the Cathedral, including sharing words with the community. I began this writing before Thanksgiving, but became mired in theological resistance.

I sent out the message that love won’t manifest against resistance. It must be welcomed. A breakthrough of sorts happened last weekend, and I felt the resistance melt away. The words come forth easily.

I was down at the Ventura Government Center for jury duty, and worried through the last of the wording this morning. I do tend to become a little abstract. I hope that it conveys the meaning.

We are so very close. I do my best to mark the way.


The Age Upon Us

Hello, dear friends.

May all the blessings of this day be upon you.

Summoned by the cry of broken hearts, I first came here fifteen years ago. Thus it was to the sweet virgin, witness to the suffering of her people, praying that the Father might bring forth a savior from among her sisters. After Gabri-el revealed her role, the jewel of feminine compassion said simply, “Here am I.”

So I say now: “Here am I.”

That is all the introduction I have for you. The rest is not important, for the gifts of this day descend from a greater source.

In Genesis, when God arrives, the earth is declaimed as “formless and void.” That is to say: nothing found there had any purpose, nor any soul. The molten lava flowed and cooled. Rock ground against itself, creating nothing. Water washed against the rock, forming beds of clay, but no life sprang forth.

The Love that is God seeks to make relationships marvelous, and the Bible records His gifts. The first were simple: light, ground and rain.

Of these gifts God sought to raise creatures that loved as He did. Three billion years later, He crouched on the ground, remembering, and bestowed upon Adam the ability to love. Having compassion on Adam’s loneliness, God found a companion, and Eve was given Adam’s heart to tend, and bore witness to Adam’s virtue.

I remind you of these things to clarify the gifts of this day. Jesus lived forty years on this Earth. He walked among us, and we remember this day because he died to give proof to the undying power of love. But we should set that forty years against the three billion that preceded it. If we are amazed at what Jesus accomplished in forty years, how can we describe the tenderness, strength, and determination of the Father? Can we even begin to grasp it?

Three billion years. As it is said: “I am less than a worm.”

But the Father finds joy in us. Look around you. See the rock, polished and cast. We give form and purpose to it. Our gratitude secures a sanctuary for the burdened. Our souls expand, filling the world with the love we receive.

That is to say – as he is love – that we fill the world with God.

That is the specific gift of this day. Love descended to us. Secure in Mary’s incorruptible womb, love joined flesh, and walked among us.

This sounds simple, but is not easy to understand. What did it mean for Christ to descend from heaven? Why did he need to come in the flesh? Why did he need to suffer and die on the cross?

We come together tonight not only to honor Mary and Jesus, but because on this night the Most High comes closer to us. We see beauty, we hear it in voices and instruments, we see it in the faces of those we love. This beauty washes against our troubles and strife, and if we raise our faces and hearts in gratitude, we feel the Most High fill our cup to the brim.

There are those among you that know this to be true. You are near to the saints.

But is it for you that Jesus came?

Why would that glorious spirit, replete in the presence of his Father’s love, descend for the saintly? Would they not be served better if he stayed to prepare a place for them?

Let me remind you: there are those among us that dare not raise their hearts. They are like Peter on the boat after the fish rush to fill the nets, fallen to his knees, pleading “Go away from me, master, for I am a sinner!”

How many of us have felt that shame? Feared that God would turn away from us?

“Oh, you of little faith!” was the rebuke from Jesus. That was to say “Believe in yourself! Believe that you are beloved by the Most High! Believe that you should share the joy of my service to Him!”

St. Theresa of Avila wrote:

O Lord of my soul and my Good! There are souls so determined to love you that they gladly abandon everything to focus on nothing but loving you. Why don’t you want them to immediately ascend to a place where they may receive the joyful gift of perfect love?

The answer being: because God needs us here to fill the world with love.

Not only on Calvary. Not only on Christmas Day. Not only in this church. But everywhere, every day.

In this Age, Jesus commanded that we “pick up our cross.” But that is not the goal of love. Let us talk of the New Age: A day will come without suffering, without fear, without grief. It is the day from which the power of the love that surrounds us will chase those experiences from our lives.

In that future we will find, like the five thousand, that when we gather what little we have, it is multiplied until it is more than enough. Illness will fade when our sister gazes upon us with compassion. Conflict will flee when our brother prays that our ambition be tempered by good will.

Can we glimpse that day? Here? Now?

Let us try!

Oh, you saints, remember the grace of those two: the woman and the child that were touched by heaven, yet chose to serve us. Take the hands of those you love, and lift your hearts to the Most High. Feel his gaze upon you. Feel the tenderness, the patience, the strength. Behind it the unending ocean of his love. Allow that love to fill your heart.

Thus was the Sacred Mother. Thus was the Lamb.

Rest there, you saints, for now I must address others.

Oh, you weary and burdened. You that bear witness to the sorrows of the world. You are not forgotten.

They descended to serve you. Mary and Jesus: they became flesh so that they might feel your anguish, and bear witness to the sin that oppresses you. It is you that matter, you weary and burdened, for you test the submission of the saints to the love of the Most High.

Lean your sorrows upon me, oh you weary and burdened.

Here am I.

Oh, you saints, do you feel them among you? This is the purpose for your hearts: that as did Jesus, you might share your love. Open your hearts and minds now, and robe the weary and burdened in your grace. See in your hearts that they will find, in the coming year, all that they need, because those that have means to comfort them will receive something in exchange: the certitude of the New Age prophesied by Jesus. Not as a distant promise glimpsed from 2000 years ago, but as a palpable nearness in the heart.

That will be an age when the rich will not hoard their wealth, because they will have the security of fast friendship. It will be an age in which no one asks “What’s in it for me?” because they know that in sharing what they have, their hearts expand to receive ever more of the limitless power of the Most High.

Do you not feel it, oh you saints? Is there not still more? Let it pour out from you into the world! Through the streets, into the dark corners. Across rivers, plains and oceans. Into every heart that craves the hope birthed on this day.

Jesus was not born into comfort. Mary did not labor in a feather bed. This is the gift of this day: they brought love to the world so that we might know that all the world is sacred, that we were meant to be sacred, and that the Most High is determined that all should be redeemed.

Mold with the redwoods. Worms with the eagles. Shepherds with kings. And those oppressed by sin with the saints.

Oh my friends! Let us be worthy of our brother! Let us worship with every breath, with every touch. Let us worship in the temple of the Most High. Let us worship in the temple of our hearts.

Merry Christmas! And blessings be upon you all!

The Season of Peace

Among the seven forms of selfishness released upon the Earth when the seals were broken in heaven [Rev. 6], the prince of death is that mystical presence that divides us from those that we love and feasts on our sorrow.

In this season, we celebrate a man who submitted to death, yet still loving those that abused him [Luke 23:34]. Through his devotion, Jesus suffused death with love. He converted that impenetrable barrier into a shield that keeps warring spirits apart until they find the strength to forgive one another [Matt. 1:21 and Luke 24:47].

For those of us that in this season celebrate Christmas, this is the source of its meaning and joy.

Beautiful Christmas Homage

I picked up WoW’s Christmas collection a few years back, and found the first CD uninspiring. I finally loaded the second into my car CD player, and was completely ravished by Audrey Assad’s cover of Chris Tomlin’s Winter Snow. It captures so wonderfully the painful hesitancy of a love that wishes to sweep us all up, but dare not because to do so would be to overwhelm us.

So it must watch and wait, and come so very, very gently when we call it into our lives – often only when we’ve gotten to the point of crying out desperately for healing.

Happy, Happy

I usually spend the Christmas season listening to Sarah McClachlan’s Wintersong, over and over again. This year, I couldn’t put my hands on it. I finally went down to Barnes and Noble this weekend to look for a replacement copy. The clerk shared that there was one copy in the store, but it was on hold. I promised him that I’d be the vulture in the racks in the hope that it would go unpurchased.

Sarah is my favorite muse of the soul. I went to see her live in concert at the Nokia Center a couple of years ago. Part of her way of connecting with the audience is to read notes out of a hat. They were pretty standard party fare, the most scurrilous being whether she goes “commando” on stage. Sarah was really patient.

She had just authorized the use of “In the Arms of the Angel” for the animal rescue centers. During her request that we make a donation to that community, Sarah told us that, much as she would like to respond to our questions, the entire band was wearing ear-plug monitors, and couldn’t hear anything that we were saying.

After the pitch for the animal rescue shelters, I focused my thoughts and said “Thank-you”. She almost jumped out of her skin. It was obvious to me that we share a connection somehow.

Sarah was going through a troubled time. Her husband had filed for divorce, and her children were travelling with the band. The next day I went out to her web site and posted a note to her, saying all the things that I wished I had been present enough to put into the hat for her.

I picked up Mirrorball maybe eight years ago, and it’s been a really powerful tool for me, rivalled in that sense only by Snatam Kaur’s Essentials. Kaur’s work is beautifully devotional, but Sarah gets really in deep with people’s pain. I don’t know how she processes it. It’s like a key for me when I’m in contact with people carrying deep psychic wounds. Even more, Sarah does it without bitterness. Almost all of Mirrorball sees life as a struggle that reveals the hope for grace in all of the participants.

So I offered her my perception that, if she would only recognize the healing forces that swirled around her, she might have some really beautiful experiences.

Last night, I had a strong urge to go back out to Barnes and Noble, and discovered that the CD was back on the racks. Happy, Happy!

I don’t know what possessed Sarah to create Wintersong in 2006. Most pop Christmas albums focus on the joy of the holiday season, but Wintersong is powerfully devotional, and not at all derivative. She sets “Noel” to the beat of African drums, and weaves it with “Mary, Mary” as a spiritual set to lute. “Wintersong” and “Song for a Winter’s Night” are originals that capture so beautifully the bittersweet feeling of being without the one we love on Christmas.

I’m listening now to “Little Town of Bethlehem”, and the rendering of “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, Where meek souls will receive him still, Dear Christ enters in” still brings tears to my eyes, even after four years of listening.

So what if it’s not party music? I don’t know why it hurts so much, but it’s a gift, Sarah, that I know leads me into the joy of healing.

Thank-you.

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

When I need to disconnect from the world, I play Runescape (which, believe it or not, I first parsed as “run – escape”). I always play on world 42, which is the “role-playing world”. I don’t know how to role-play (I always think of J. Edgar Hoover), but I play there because of Douglas Adams.

Douglas Adams is the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a science-fiction satire that was recently mashed up as a movie. The premise of the movie is this: an anxious alien race designs a computer to calculate the answer to “life, the universe and everything!” The computer first calculates the time required to produce the answer, then goes into millenium-spanning hibernation. When the instant arrives, a huge throng of ecstatic onlookers is treated to the result.

42.

Now Adams says that this was a completely random number: just the number that came into his head while out in the garden.

You can imagine our disappointment.

The alien race complains that the answer doesn’t mean anything, and the computer explains that it still has to calculate the question. The mood of the crowd brightens as the computer announces that it will design an even bigger computer to calculate the question.

In the end, it turns out that the computer is the Earth. The hero of the series is ultimately trapped with the representatives of the alien race, manifesting as mice, who threaten to cut open his brain to get at the question.

Now, as a literary critic, I have to say that this entire story line is absurd. The question was already asked: “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” So the problem was that they didn’t understand the answer. The answer is here on earth. So let’s see, what can we make of 42?

Well, 42 = 6 x 7. In Genesis, ‘6’ is the number of man. ‘7’ is the number of god. “seven times six” can thus be read as “god elaborated as man”. In other words, the answer to “the meaning of life” is the little baby Jesus!

Douglas, were you entirely innocent in bringing this wisdom to the world?

Merry Christmas everybody!

Just don’t ask me to explain what this means with in re: the recent book by W and the Clinton presidency.

Mary, Contrarily

A statue of the Holy Mother at St Paschal’s has been a soothing presence to me for the last 18 months. I typically stand on her side of the sanctuary, as it puts me across from the children’s choir whose invocation has such a compelling simplicity. But the calling that reaches me through her image has become a compulsion of its own.

“Come here. Rest in my peace for a time.”

This confident and generous assertion of self contradicts the popular image of the young virgin. It began nagging at me this Christmas. Was she simply the passive, albeit perfect, receptacle for her nation’s Messiah?

I cannot reconcile that with the Gospel of Luke. The song that he records she sang to Elizabeth was not a literal event, but rather a way of placing into context the spirit that moved her into the tide of events. It reads, in part [NIV Luke 31-33]:

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

Would these have been the words of a 14-year old? Obviously not, but would they have been far from her concerns?

What is it like to be a child in a state ruled by tyranny? We in the developed world forget, but it is to be told to look to the ground when the tyrant’s men appear, to hide when they come with weapons at the ready, to whispered news of families taxed into poverty. Not lessons shared idly, but as a parent’s moral necessity to ensure that children survive.

Would it have been unexpected for an empathetic and intelligent girl to contrast this reality with the promises of her faith? Would it have been a surprise for her to conclude that this was a time for God to honor his promises to his people?

There are two ways to fall on the edge of this dilemma: into doubt, and onto certainty. What I feel is the presence of certainty in this young lady. Certainty that God would honor his promises. Certainty that holy men always came into the world through a woman that loved their God. Certainty that such a woman would be found, perhaps a woman like her mother or a beloved aunt. Certainty expressed in prayer early in the morning and before laying down to rest at night.

And through that expression of faith, the angel that had waited, as angels must, for the day of their service to Love, awoke in heaven, and came down to explain: “Yes, it will be done, and this is how.”